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May 21, 1999 08:38am
No Gov Cells For Hookers
Source: Reuters

(VANCOUVER, BC) -- British Columbia has backed away from funding a controversial offer to buy cell phones for Vancouver prostitutes, but said Thursday the safety project would instead be privately funded.

Prompted by fears that a serial killer was stalking Vancouver's prostitutes, the Canadian province offered C$3,000 last week to buy phones so the women could call police if their lives were threatened.

The offer prompted widespread criticism, on the grounds the phones would be used by the prostitutes to solicit business and because the money could be better used to address issues that force women into the illegal sex trade.

The provincial minister of women's equality, Susan Hammell, said fears that criticism might scuttle the effort prompted private donors to fund the C$3,000 needed for the phones.

``We remain committed to making sure the lives of these mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are valued,'' said Hammell, who said the money originally offered by the province would be spent on other support services.

More than 20 prostitutes working the streets of Vancouver's poor Downtown Eastside neighborhood have disappeared without a trace since 1995, prompting fear that a serial killer has been murdering the women and hiding the bodies.

Police have said they suspect many of the missing are dead, but have no hard evidence any were victims of foul play. The city and provinces are preparing a C$100,000 reward to find a killer if the women were murdered.

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