Pro-prostitution carnival hijacks community roundtable
Mark Hasiuk, Vancouver Courier
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Speeding through rain-soaked downtown streets in my 1993 Dodge Colt. I'm 15 minutes late for a prostitution roundtable at the Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre. The event, orchestrated by SFU communication students, will explore prostitution issues in Vancouver.
Arrive at the seventh floor conference room. Behind an admission table, three young female students-sharply dressed and impeccably groomed-greet me with a smile. Identify myself. Sign in.
Grab seat in back row of cozy amphitheatre. Approximately 25 people occupy 10 rows of comfortable blue seats. The room is split into two factions. Abolitionists, mainly aboriginal women who hope to end prostitution, and pro-prostitution advocates-an eclectic crowd
festooned with bleach blonde hair and heavy makeup-who favour decriminalization or legalization.
Around a table, on the floor below the amphitheatre seats, a handful of pro-prostitution advocates-transsexual Jamie Lee Hamilton, pimp Scarlett Lake of Scarlett's House escort agency, Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies-quietly lecture two SFU students, who stare blankly and nod. A small fruit plate and coffee pot sits untouched nearby.
I turn toward Miranda, a young University of B.C. kinetics graduate sitting quietly to my left. "What's the hold up?" I ask. There's a problem, she says, with time allotments for speakers. Miranda works for Beautynight, a fitness program for troubled women in the Downtown
Eastside. Nice girl.
To my right, Chris Atchison, an SFU sociology professor and "sex buyer" supporter, shakes his head and sighs. Begins typing on his
laptop. The air is stale. This room is warm and stuffy.
Hushed discussion continues between students and pro-prostitution advocates. The rest of us sit quietly.
Note: Start pricing laptops.
Meeting finally begins. A female student outlines parameters for the afternoon.
"We want a discussion based on respect," she says, before offering 20 minutes to each abolitionist speaker, and 10 minutes to each speaker from the pro-prostitution crowd, which outnumbers abolitionists by two to one. Proposal greeted by chorus of sputters and mutters from pro-prostitution crowd. Hamilton is appalled: "I thought this was a roundtable about the realities of the sex trade," she says. "I think that's absolutely unfair."
Awkward silence. Students stew in their seats. "We did try to invite everyone involved in the sex trade issue," says a male student, "and to be fair and balanced and not take a stance on abolition and decriminalization or whatever."
More awkward silence. The roundtable is 45 minutes behind schedule.
It's very stuffy in here.