A Saint John professor and researcher of the sex trade says she is "gobsmacked" by city council's interest in using existing bylaws to crackdown on prostitution in the uptown.
Leslie Jeffrey, co-author of a book on sex trade in the Maritimes, says the move by council is "backwards" and is out of sync with the rest of the city.
"Across the board I'm hearing from people online and when I talk to them, it's a head shaking response of, well, number one, there are way bigger issues in Saint John than a few women walking the streets," she said.
"It's unbelievable that they could spend this much time and effort on something not on people's radars. They are far more concerned about pot holes and pensions than this."
On Tuesday night, Ward 2 Coun. Susan Fullerton pitched the idea of charging prostitutes under the city's Improper Usage of the Sidewalk bylaw to get them off the street. She said the sex trade is hurting the city’s image.
Council approved her motion to have police report back within 30 days about how city bylaws against jaywalking and conducting business with someone in a motor vehicle could be applied.
Jeffrey calls it discriminatory and a waste of resources for a city dealing with pressing financial issues.
She also contends pushing prostitutes out of communities that are close to services, such as the needle exchange and the hospital, makes it more dangerous for these women.
"So you would push them out of this neighbourhood into much more dangerous locations, which is exactly what happens and it's what police complain about. They say all you're doing is you're going to push them from one neighbourhood to the next and it's more dangerous locations where they're even more likely to get beaten or even killed," she said.
Fullerton's motion asked police to focus specifically on the area in Waterloo Village, where she owns property. She wouldn't answer questions about her motion or about a perceived conflict of interest.
The city has a bylaw prohibiting people from selling anything on the sidewalk without permission and from conducting business with anyone in a motor vehicle.
There are also rules against interfering with people walking and calling out from a sidewalk to attract customers.
Coun. Shirley McAlary was the only politician to vote against Fullerton’s motion on Tuesday. She argued the police are already working on the issue.