RCMP aims to halt Craigslist erotic ads

The RCMP is working with Craigslist to try to stop erotic ads that many fear are a cover for prostitution from being posted on the company's website in Canada.

The RCMP is working with Craigslist to try to stop erotic ads that many fear are a cover for prostitution from being posted on the company's website in Canada.

Craigslist shut down its adult services section in the United States on Saturday and replaced it with a black bar that simply says "censored." The move came after a group of state attorneys general said there weren't enough protections against blocking potentially illegal ads promoting prostitution.

But as of Wednesday morning, the Canadian site still had an "erotic" link listed under services. Mounties want that to change.

"The RCMP Human Trafficking National Co-ordination Centre has partnered with Craigslist and has met [with Craigslist officials] on several occasions trying to implement some measures in Canada," Sgt. Marie-Claude Arsenault said at a news conference in Winnipeg.

'The pushback is the same in the U.S. and Canada.'— Sidneyeve Matrix, Queen's University

"There's already some measures in place ... not all the ones that are in the U.S. at the time, but we are speaking with them and trying to bring these measures in Canada."

When asked directly if the RCMP wanted Craigslist to shut down adult sections on its Canadian website, Arsenault said: "These are the kinds of measures we are looking at in Canada."

A Craigslist spokeswoman did not immediately respond to emails from The Canadian Press requesting comment.

However, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in a May blog posting that the company's ads were no worse than those published by the alternative newspaper chain Village Voice Media. He cited one explicit ad which included the phrase: "anything goes $90," the Associated Press reported.

Warning and disclaimer

The "erotic" link on the Canadian site has a warning and disclaimer attached to it. It says users agree "to flag as 'prohibited' anything illegal or in violation of the Craigslist terms of use. This includes, but is not limited to, offers for or the solicitation of prostitution."

Media and legal experts suggest Craigslist may have to follow suit by shutting down such services in Canada.

"There was a huge wave of pressure coming from all kinds of points of interest, pressuring Craigslist to shut down this service, from the community and also from government," said Sidneyeve Matrix, a media professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"The pushback is the same in the U.S. and Canada."   

Matrix's colleague at Queen's University, law Prof. Art Cockfield, said there are perhaps thousand of sites that offer similar adult services.

But Cockfield said a lot of hostility was directed towards Craigslist in the U.S. was because of the so-called Craigslist killer.

The adult services listings came under new scrutiny after the jailhouse suicide last month of a former medical student awaiting trial in the killing of a masseuse he met through Craigslist.

"Because of the U.S. action, because it's decided to shut this down south of the border, may be there will be public pressure on Craigslist and there also may be a bit of a Canadian public outcry against law enforcement saying 'Why aren't you putting pressure on them like the American authorities did?' " said Cockfield.

'Obvious disincentive'

He's unsure if the company could be legally forced to shut down in Canada.

"If the law enforcement officials believe that they were engaged in illegal activities, actually acting as an online pimp, then that is a violation of our federal criminal laws and they could be prosecuted," said Cockfield.

Removing the service from Craigslist won't stop human trafficking or prostitution, but Matrix believes it's a good step forward.

"It's very easy to find interviews with people who are working in the ... sex trade who have said that [Craigslist] is the best way for them to advertise," she said.

"Not having that service will definitely be an obvious disincentive and it will just make buying sex and finding those kind of activities just a little bit harder."