Sydney prostitution sting challenged in court
Man, 73, claims police violated his charter rights
A judge in Sydney will render a decision in August on whether a 73-year-old man suffered a violation of his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when he was charged with soliciting sex last September.
John Russell Mercer was one of 27 men charged with soliciting a prostitute, who was actually an undercover police officer, in a sting code-named "Operation John Be Gone."
Mercer's lawyer, T.J. McKeough, argued before Judge Brian Williston that his client was entrapped by police.
Police released a list of the names of those arrested to the media at a news conference and they were widely published.
McKeough says there was a "public shaming component. By listing these people's names, ages and the location of their residence, they are easily identifiable to all their peers."
Agreed on $30 for sex
Mercer testified a woman waved at him as he drove down Charlotte Street in downtown Sydney.
He said he pulled over and the woman asked what he wanted.
He said he soon suspected she was a prostitute and told her what kind of sex he wanted. They agreed on a price of $30, he said.
Mercer testified the next thing he knew, police cars were pulling up and he was arrested.
Sex workers hired nearly every day
Some men hire sex workers almost every day and some of the johns are violent, said Sgt. Jodie Wilson, the police officer in charge of the operation.
Regular customers became suspicious during the sting operation when the undercover officer didn't immediately get into their cars, she testified, adding those men drove off and avoided arrest.
During closing arguments, McKeough said police admitted in testimony that officers had come to know most of the sex workers and had assembled as list of regular customers.
Yet, they did not arrest any of the regulars, instead picking up men like his client.
Mercer has never been in trouble with the law and has no history of hiring prostitutes.
'This isn't what the police are meant to do'
"We're saying that if you took someone just off the street, you put all this evidence in front of them, that they'd be saying hold on, 'This isn't what the police are meant to do. This isn't what the justice system is meant to do,'" McKeough told CBC News.
Crown attorney Andre Arseneault argued the police actions were not improper and do not constitute an abuse of process.
"Police in these circumstances used very effective, good police work, effective investigative techniques, in a situation that was safe for those involved, albeit in circumstances where they could observe and be safe," he said.
A decision will be rendered on Aug. 22.
With Peggy MacDonald