An investigation by Cape Breton Regional Police, dubbed “John Be Gone,” targeted street-level prostitution in downtown Sydney for a 10-day period during August and September 2015.
It resulted in the arrest of 27 men who were all charged with communicating for the purpose of obtaining a sexual service.
While some have already pleaded guilty and were issued fines — ranging between $500 and $595 — others have entered not guilty pleas while one other challenged the investigation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Four more accused are scheduled to stand trial this week. A similar charge against another accused was previously dismissed by the Crown.
On Monday, provincial court Judge Brian Williston issued not guilty verdicts in two cases involving Giuseppi Luigi Pettorelli, 55, of Sydney and Carl Hugh Ellison, 77, of Northside East Bay.
A not guilty verdict was also recorded last week in the case involving Thomas Clevison MacDonald, 62, of Dominion.
In his decision on Ellison, Williston said there was no dispute that the female undercover officer asked Ellison what he wanted and he responded oral sex. The officer cited a price of $30.
Williston said the officer then directed Ellison to a parking lot on Bentinck Street but Ellison said he first needed to go to the bank to get money.
Ellison proceeded in the opposite direction from where the undercover officer suggested he park and was arrested by other officers observing the operation.
After he was searched, police found him in possession of $85.
Ellison told investigators he had no intention of picking up the woman but was curious as to how much such a service would cost.
In his decision, Williston said there was no dispute that Ellison did communicate for a sexual service and a price was established.
“The issue here is whether that conversation was at that time for the purpose of obtaining a sexual service,” said the judge.
Williston again referred to Ellison’s police statement in which he said he was curious about the price, noting he had the money on him to pay.
“I do not believe that the accused changed his mind,” said Williston, saying that would not be a defence to such a charge.
“He did not drive to the location to which he had been directed and, in fact, went in the opposite direction. I believe that he did not have the intention at the time of the conversation to obtain sexual services,” said Williston.
In the Pettorelli case, Williston again ruled he found the accused did not have the intent to obtain sexual services.
He said Pettorelli was arrested away from the area he was directed to go by the undercover officer and that at the time of his arrest, he wasn’t in possession of any cash, credit or debit cards, his wallet or even his driver’s license.
Pettorelli told police the conversation began because he thought the undercover officer was a friend of his girlfriend’s but when she came to his car, he realized he was mistaken.
He told police he never paid for sex and never would.
“There was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the intent was there at the time of the conversation,” said the judge.
In the MacDonald case, Williston expressed concern over the lack of detail in the arrest report for MacDonald as opposed to some of the other accused. The notes were not complied for some five hours after the arrest.
He said that during the trial, the undercover officer was unable to recall whether MacDonald asked her how much for oral sex.
“I have to know the conversation,” said Williston, adding he was left with a reasonable doubt as to intent.
In previous rulings challenging the legality of the investigation, Williston ruled he found “no objectionable police conduct” that induced an accused to commit the offence of communicating for the purpose of obtaining sexual services.
“The police actions were a legitimate response to a need to protect society’s most marginalized and vulnerable members in focusing their attention on the men driving the demand,” said Williston.
The investigation was launched after numerous complaints from the Downtown Sydney Business Association about customers and others being approached by both sex trade workers and johns seeking sexual services.