April 15th, 2024

Challenge claims Escort Bylaw too invasive

By COLLIN GALLANT on February 21, 2024.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A court challenge of the city’s 40-year-old Escort Bylaw will proceed this week but without several witnesses called for by the plaintiff, who argues the process of getting a licence is onerous and gives police too much personal information.

Since 1983, escort agencies have been required to hold a city business licence, undergo background checks as well as submit the names, birthdates and addresses of workers as well as clients, plus the times and locations of interactions, to police.

Local paralegal Ken Montgomery is not a lawyer, but is handling a Charter of Rights and Freedoms application for a woman who says the regulations are unconstitutional. Her name and those of several witnesses are subject of a publication ban application.

Medicine Hat has had an “Escort Bylaw” since 1983 to regulate the industry.

In late 2022, city council approved an updated fee schedule for the longstanding bylaw, but also initiated a review of practices other municipalities in the province.

That undertaking by the city solicitor’s office still appears on an list of outstanding items for council’s development committee.

On Monday, Alberta court of justice chief Justice Sylvia Oishi ruled against a request by Montgomery to subpoena the city councillor who called for the review, Alison Van Dyke, the committee chair at the time.

As well, city solicitor Ben Bullock, chief of police Alan Murphy, and two other senior police officers will not be required to testify or answer questions.

Oishi ruled they would have little information to materially add to the hearing, set to resume Thursday.

But, she did approve the appearance of MHPS Insp. Brent Secondiak, who heads the major crimes division. That office is tasked with enforcing the bylaw by MHPS operational policy.

The case argues that the city’s legislation is a municipal bylaw, rather than a provincial or federal statue, which would be dealt with by police.

Applications for licences are directed to the chief of police’s office for background checks, rather than bylaw officers or a licensing inspector or development officer, as with most other licence applications.

As well, monthly reports required of agencies are forwarded.

Montgomery argues that provides too much potentially embarrassing information to authorities that could be used improperly or surveyed by officers to open or advance cases unrelated to the escort bylaw.

No wrongdoing has been proven in court.

MHPS solicitor Randy Pick appeared Monday for Oishi’s judgement.

The bylaw requires agencies to submit monthly reports detailing the names, addresses and driver’s licence numbers of clients, the locations of introductions and any fees collected from escorts.

Minimum fines range from $300 to $1,000 for a variety of offences, with the maximum reaching $10,000.

Acquiring a licence requires a criminal record check, a stand-alone business address that is not a residence, among other conditions.

The fee as of January 2024 is $5,000 for an agency (the same amount as in 1983 when the bylaw was introduced), $3,000 for an independent agency and $250 to $350 for individual licences depending if they are a resident or non-resident.

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