London police to release names of johns charged with buying sex

London police will now release the names of those charged with purchasing sex, according to chief John Pare, who made the announcement at a London Police Services board meeting Thursday.

Police say they won't do so in cases where naming could identify a victim or hamper an investigation

Police say they will begin releasing names of those charged with buying sex in cases where it's legally possible. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

London police will now release the names of those charged with purchasing sex, according to chief John Pare, who made the announcement at a London Police Services board meeting Thursday.

"This is a warning to make better choices in life," Pare said.

"This is not a choice that you should be doing in purchasing sex and putting victims at the risk they're facing."

Names of those charged will be published in London police media releases, Pare said. This is the same way that names of the accused are released for other crimes, such as theft or homicide.

When names won't be released

There are some caveats to the new policy, Pare said.

Police will not release names if a publication ban is in place, or if doing so could identify a victim or hamper an ongoing investigation. 

The move is an attempt to crack down on demand in a city that's seen by police as a "hub" for human trafficking by virtue of its position on the 401 Highway between Toronto and Detroit, according to Det. David Ellyatt, who heads the London Police Service's Human Trafficking Unit.

In December, police executed an online trafficking sting and drew more than 9,000 pageviews to an online ad for sex. In the course of the six week operation, police arrested 25 men and made contact with 56 women and girls, including some as young as 16 years old.

Mixed reaction already

Megan Walker is with the London Abused Women's Centre. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

The decision to name those who buy sex—colloquially known as johns—drew a standing ovation from Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, who attended the board meeting.

Walker told reporters she's been pushing for the move for the last 10 years, saying the issue was a matter of public safety.

Walker called johns 'sexual predators.'

"The public needs to know who they're dealing with, particularly if their children are in schools or daycare centres with men who are sex purchasers," said Walker, adding that she believes men will hesitate to buy sex if they know their names could wind up being published for neighbours and coworkers to see.

Julie Baumann is a co-founder and coordinator at SafeSpace London, a drop-in centre for sex workers in the city. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Not all women's advocates in London saw the change as a positive step.

Julie Baumann, co-founder and coordinator of SafeSpace London, said shaming men who buy sex will make life harder for those who choose to earn their living through sex work. 

"It's another avenue of ensuring they have less income, and it doesn't help create any safer working conditions at all," she said, adding that pushing sex work underground tends to make it riskier for those in the business.

Baumann added that many sex workers in London are consenting adults, who choose their work because it's easy to balance childcare or health concerns. 

For his part, Pare maintained that what johns are doing is illegal. Under Canada's prostitution laws, it is legal to sell sex, but illegal to buy it or advertise it.

"We're just enforcing the laws that are on the books," said Pare.