Vancouver - Pro-prostitution carnival hijacks community roundtable

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martin dufresne
Vancouver - Pro-prostitution carnival hijacks community roundtable

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.

12:50 p.m.
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.

12:51 p.m.
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. 
Something's wrong.

12:53 p.m.
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.

12:55 p.m.
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.

1:05 p.m.
Hushed discussion continues between students and pro-prostitution advocates. The rest of us sit quietly.
Note: Start pricing laptops.

1:15 p.m.
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."

1:16 p.m.
More awkward silence. The roundtable is 45 minutes behind schedule. 
It's very stuffy in here.

Continued here


Cueball Cueball's picture

That's interesting.

Well, lets not dwell too much on the bias of the reporting but just on the fact that the "roundtable" seems to have its own predisposition based in the fact that it offered 10 minutes speaking time to advocates, and 20 minutes to abolitionists, apparently because they had not achieved their desired outcome, since more advocates than abolitionists bothered to show up by a margin of 2 to 1. Davies is identified using the pejorative term "ringleader" of the advocates crowd, I noticed, for offering the sensible suggestion that things be put on hold so that people can work out the proccess -- now that is truly evil.

I have an alternate suggestion for the title of this thread: "Abolitionists hijack process at roundtable, when outgunned."

martin dufresne

Nifty reversal. Never thought I'd see you support a camp evicting a journalist from a debate. By whatever means necessary, eh?

Cueball Cueball's picture

Here is Davies on the issue:


Good heavens, I've never seen such a nasty rant as written by Mark Hasiuk who was asked, politely, to leave a meeting about sex work that, according to the organizers, was never intended to be a public meeting. His commentary is very inaccurate and biased. To suggest I "chastized" the students and issued an "ultimatum" is quite outrageous. In fact I was diplomatically trying to suggest a few minutes of time out for the students, so they could figure out how they wanted to proceed with their meeting, as it had clearly become fractious. This is being a "ringleader?" Come on, that's really too funny.

Libby Davies


I have seen you do this before Martin with tabloid stories that fit your predisposed position on these issues: swallow the whole thing without a second thought.

Cueball Cueball's picture

Uhh, you are accepting the word of someone ejected from a roundtable discussion group (roundtable and debate are not the same thing) at face value, and the article they wrote about the incident? For example, in a final sideswipe at Davies (the ringleader) the writer quotes her as saying: "Don't pin this on me!" she says. "You're being provocative!"


Maybe he was, Maybe he was not, but in years of reading "journalism" even in the case where journalists clearly thought they were being denied their rights, the professionals mostly manage to try and stay clear of overtly biased and hostile reporting, and allusions to conspiracies pinned together based on who was sitting next to who, and who was speaking whomever. The decision was not made by Davies, whatever influence she may had on the decision. Obvious axe grinding does not encourage one to think the entire story is being told. It's says "sour grapes" big time.

I'd really be interested to see what these other articles that Mr. Husiak has written, to see exactly what his bias is.


There is a difference between reportage, and an opinion piece, where the facts are inserted to support an opinion.


martin dufresne

Interesting that this was billed as a forum, that Hasiuk identified himself and signed in, but that Davies now claims the organizers say this was never intended to be a public meeting. Seems like after-the-fact damage control. But I am merely speculating.

The Courier's answer to critics: "Some readers were bugged by the descriptive choices made by columnist Mark Hasiuk in his account of a student-run forum on the legality of prostitution. The students thought the piece dumped on them when they were simply trying to learn the ways of this harsh, hard world. Some participants of the forum asked how the rest of the Courier staff, particularly the women, could work with someone so full of rage and hate. It's a fair question no doubt being asked by the kids' hockey team Hasiuk coaches, the homeless man next door to our office he gives food to, people in Ethiopia he dug wells for, and residents on the Downtown Eastside he's volunteered with."

remind remind's picture

I have been to plenty of forums that were not public, anmd to which the media would never have been allowed no matter how much "good" work they do. I will believe Libby!

Cueball Cueball's picture

martin dufresne wrote:

Interesting that this was billed as a forum, that Hasiuk identified himself and signed in, but that Davies now claims the organizers say this was never intended to be a public meeting. Seems like after-the-fact damage control. But I am merely speculating.

Yes, you are speculating, and speculating from bias I might add.

I am not going to argue this point, but Hasiuk's bias and lack of journalstic propriety and obvious axe grinding, in comparison to Davies straight forward response tend to make me believe Davies, and not your writer. I have looked a little bit into your writer and he comes off as a bit of wingnut. For example he was trying to take the BC College of Pharmacies to task, as well as the whole government sponsored methodone program for drug addicts (which Hasiuk, who seems to be some kind of anti-war, 9/11 Truther with a rigid sense of crack the whip social conservative values, opposes) because three pharmacies offered coffee and cookies as what Hasiuk described as an "enticement" to drug addicts to buy their methdone from those three pharmacies.

He actually thought it was worth writing about, but I guess that counts as a scoop for the Courier.

Read it here under Methodone Madness

ETA: oops he's not a 9/11 truther, quite the opposite. I read the article more closely.

martin dufresne
Cueball Cueball's picture

Anything to say about the "process" issue, and setting up community discussion groups?

martin dufresne

FWIW: One criterion is probably the boundary of the community. SFU students are a natural community. So are prostituted people. So are Native folks. So are the residents of a physical community. So are pimps and sex buyers. So are feminists doing front-line anti-violence work. I think consensus can be sought whith such communities if it isn't there already, and then efforts can be made to extend that to the larger community - that of women, for instance - and to apply leverage to the political sphere. It's never easy, but there are benchmarks, criteria, possibilities around process whithin such natural communities. But when you lump together in a public forum people from various communities - some of which negotiate their consensus behind closed doors -, it is almost unavoidable that you will see clear-cut battle lines and dirty-tricks tactics, that haven't changed since the early eighties (Barnard Conference, 1982), and where the main strategy of prostitution advocates seems to be shutting people out, grossly misrepresenting the reality of prostitution and of abolitionist demands, and pandering to traditional liberal sentiments and fears.

martin dufresne

The people speaking of rigging at SFU were the pro-prostitution side. I don't. When I speak of "dirty tricks", I mean Hasiuk being chucked out - as abolitionists are regularly kept out of such forums, university departments, conferences, letters columns etc. Ugly goings-on behind the allegedly freedoms-loving front.

Another major problem is the misrepresentation of the reality of prostitution and of abolitionist arguments - it can be seen on just about any forum. If I were to try and organize such a debate - God forbid - my only rule would be that people have to argue their own position rather than build a straw man of their opponents position or claim to represent sex workers in general, as usually happens.

Cueball Cueball's picture

If that is your only criterion, I can safely say I would never want to attend an community roundtable organized in such a fashion, since it would require everyone understand a very rarified kind of leftist analysis of "positioning" that most people are not at all aware of. The result would be total chaos.

Are you now "arguing your own" position? Or more over is it not a "straw man" of your opponents position" where you are claiming "to represent sex workers in general".

Since you have advocated above for the position that there should be natural criterion for inclusion, I can hardly see how you could turn around and argue that Hasiuk being ejected is a dirty trick, since as far as I can see he doesn't have any standing in any of the possible communities that are engaged. Unless part time media bloggers, and occassional Vancouver Courier contributors somehow fit the definition of those directly involved, (his only real interests seems to be that he is interested and wants to get paid for writing about it) in a meeting which, according to Davies, was not an open meeting. 

just one of the...

martin dufresne wrote: only rule would be that people have to argue their own position rather than build a straw man of their opponents position or claim to represent sex workers in general, as usually happens.

That is funny. Would you apply this rule to yourself, or continue your tired attacks on sex work?

Cueball Cueball's picture

Well, we can't really tell what happened here. The presence of Hasiuk seems to indicate that persons not directly related to the sex trade were indeed allowed into the roundtable, and therefore the terms of inclusion were quite wide. That said, it would seem that the mandate for the meeting was based in the "community".

As for rigging the vote (dirty tricks), so to speak, the initial decision to limit the time of advocates, I presume to "balance" the discussion, seems to indicate that if there was rigging going on, it was going on from the porhibitionists side. Even if this decision was made in the interests of fairness, I can see how those people who were their as advocates might feel that it was an overt attempt to rig the discussion.

No doubt limiting the time of some speakers to 10 minutes, instead of 20, would like personally cramp the ability of some persons who came to make more lengthy submissions, and would seem like an attempt to gut the arguement that some people wanted to make. I can see why that would make people angry, and suspicious.

It seems that the whole issue was badly organized.. I probably would have favoured a different approach, and one that probably should have been organized beforehand. Namely I would have asked for both sides of this discussion to elect 3 three spokespeople to make lengthy submission, to set the main points of the discussion out, and then have open submissions of 5 minutes for supporting statements from any person who chose to speak.

I think its very difficult to argue that anyone was rigging the system here. People are coming to an event and then being told that they will have half the time to speak as their opponents. That is a bit of a bombshell to drop on people out of the blue. I think it is quite evident that the whole thing was badly organized, and this was likely not intentional at all, but a failure of the not so experienced student organizers, and in the light of that I find Hasiuk's allegations to be over-the-top and overtly biased.

I would suggest an alternate framing of this incident, rather than "carnival hijacks community roundtable", I would offer "disorganization mars community roundtable".

Cueball Cueball's picture

I am really not going to get into a debate about the specifics of an event that I never attended, based on a hostile article written by someone with a predisposed bias, about wether or not some people engaged in quasi-illegal activity had the right to ask that writer to leave the non-public event where those people engaged in that quasi-illegal activity were going to speak in favour of legalizing that quasi-illegal activity. The reasons they might ask for such a thing are pretty obvious.

I'll leave you to fill in the blanks.

martin dufresne

(Edited for clarity) I am not sure what you mean, "just one..." . Attacking the prostitution industry - in support of the prostituted and ex-prostituted people that do so - is my position. I have never claimed to represent sex workers in general, however you wish to define that (in Montreal, their main advocacy organization includes pimps and sympathizers under the "sex worker" label, so that category doesn't seem all that useful...).

Cueball, I don't know what you are imagining when you speak of "a very rarified kind of leftist analysis of "positioning" that most people are not at all aware of" (I'll just write that off as nebulous rhetoric). I have posted here a number of testimonies and analyses by women that were very clear and not at all what you parody. (I am adding an example of that below). 

I agree that I can be accused of misrepresenting some of my opponents' position when I say that some of them claim to speak for sex workers in general (you can verify yourself whether some of them do; in my experience, the majority do so). I am arguing for a change of the present rules of engagement, not situating myself out of them until that happens. In this new scheme I am proposing, I would be glad to stick to my own position as long as they did.

As for the expulsion of a duly registered journalist from what was de facto a public forum - and this expulsion at the instigation of the pro-prostitution camp (I'm glad they didn't ask for his lynching!) - I think it was one more stupid mistake in what proved to be a poorly-organized forum (we agree on that). Still, it does provide a window into the piss-poor concern for basic human rights of the pro-prostitution side and of the forum organizers. I thought Hasiuk pretty well summarized that.


(as posted on the PAR-L distribution list, March 31, 2009)

The Aboriginal Women's Action Network was in attendance at the One is Too Many Summit held in Vancouver.
Typically we do not ask our women to tell their stories because we do not wish to exploit their stories and their lives. However, there are women amongst us, and in our communities, who want to tell their stories, and this is one woman who insisted on telling her story about her life and sharing her thoughts, feelings and opinions about her experience. We give her thanks and honour her courage to offer her life story, because as she says, "it's too important to not tell, and people need to understand."
Many Thanks and Best Regards,
Laura Holland,

AWAN Speaker at the One is Too Many Summit, Vancouver BC-Coast Salish Territories. March 26, 2009.


"Hello, I am of Kwakwakeuk and Coast Salish ancestory. I want to acknowlege the Coast Salish people for allowing us to be on their unceded territories. I come from a long line of people who were oppressed by the governments and the churches. Both, parents and grandparents, were products Indian Residential Schools. Myself, I was an extension of the government's plan to break down our people. I was apprehended in what is now known as the 60's scoop, and I was placed in abusive and violent foster homes.


Here in our homelands, we've seen violence and sexual
violence learned from these systemic forces, (fucked) incested and
molested by our fathers, uncles and foster parents .. this sexualized
violence was the training ground for what was to come later in our
lives. At fourteen I started to run from these foster homes. I came to
Vancouver at 15 years old, where I found my Mom in a small rundown
hotel called the Sunrise Hotel. She was broken down and beaten by the
residential school, which was the breeding ground for what was to come
later in her life; violent men and prostitution.. My mother cried 'til
the day she died. At fifteen I found a family down in Vancouver's skid
row with people like myself, a family that I created - or was created
for me.

I felt like a burden to my mom who was living on a small welfare
cheque. I knew my mom was frustrated with the financial burden, I didnt
have many choices.


So when I met the man who was to become my pimp and boyfriend, I was
willing to do anything I had to do to survive. I was groomed, trained
& encouraged to prostitute myself with his 'nice' words of "Everyone
is doing it," and he promised that he would "love me no less." I
remember being prostituted as a very young woman, still a child..
crying myself to sleep.. full of shame and remorse. I started using
drugs and alcohol to push these thoughts and feelings down. At that
time in my life, I thought this was my destiny, and I would find no
better. My pimp at the time confirmed these thoughts when he said, "no
one would want you anymore." So I made the best of a difficult
situation. The difficult situation being my life had been a nightmare,
and the nightmare continued here in the city.


During my time on the street I was abused so many times, I
couldn't count if I tried, with knives and guns.. physically and
sexually. Many times I found my self with black eyes and no where to
turn. I was assisted by organizations who gave me condoms, bad trick
sheets and false hope. I even volunteered my story and campaigned with
organizations like the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes... I wore
shirts that said "a blow-job is better than no job." They gave me
condoms to protect me from disease and pregnancy - but they did not
offer me hope. Nor was I offered any real exiting strategies - this
also confirmed that this was my so-called destiny.


Housing, training and jobs weren't available.


I remember hearing about women that were going missing or
were found dead when they were "working" the street. "Working," I don't
even like to say that word in the same sentence, it wasn't a job. There
were no benefits. I didnt get high risk or danger pay - but then again
it wasn't a job - men were paying to violate me. If it wasn't for my
rule that I wouldn't leave the city with a trick I would be dead too. I
was approached my men who wanted to take me out of the city boundaries.


My friends never had the chance to tell their story because
they were found dead in places like the Pickton farm. I cry for them, I
even helped carve a memorial pole for those ones that disappeared or
were found dead. Our sisters are still going missing all the time.

In this last year I 've learned two of our youth have committed
suicide rather than continue to be paid to be raped. They jumped off
balconies to escape from the violence of prosititution. These youth
lived in places like Beach Avenue and they worked in high end so called
safe escort services. It's sad when suicide seems the only option, but
it happens all of the time.


What we know is Aboriginal women and children are being harmed as we
speak. Women and youth are turning to alcohol and drugs to cope.


When my mom passed away at thirty eight, I was twenty two years
old. This was a turning point in my life. I no longer had a reason to
be in the downtown eastside.


I tried to find help for myself through detox and treatment centers and
the AA program. There were no services that were designed to help women
exit the streets.


Just the harm reduction model, condoms and bad trick sheets. The issues
we have to face when we leave the streets are many. Shame, post
truamatic stress syndrome, displacment, lack of self esteem. I had no
education, no experience to find a job and safe, affordable housing was
not available to me.


So when you say you want to offer us assistance, we say: "We want real jobs, not blowjobs."


Some say they have the Aboriginal peoples voice to promote the
brothels and the legalization or decrimalizion of prostitution. We, the
aboriginal women, say that we want more than that. Do we want to leave
this as a legacy for the future of our children and grandchildren? I
heard it said that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world,
then how come Aboriginal people can't even come up with a name for that
in our traditional languages? It's not our culture, it is not what I
want to leave for my children. Prostitution is nothing but violence
against women, why would we want to leave that for our children? As
Native people, we think of healing using the medicine wheel, the
physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Prostitution affects all
those areas and takes many years to mend afterward. After many years I
still cry and mourn for that child that lost her innocence.


I was living in the downtown eastside last year, I saw a fifty
something year old woman, a grandmother, working the streets because of
the two year welfare cutoff period. Prostitution should not have been her only option. It's shameful that a
country so rich in lands and resources cannot offer a guaranteed
liveable income to a woman indigenous to these lands.


Housing, better welfare rates, more job training, education
opportunities without the risk of being cut off welfare. We want more
detox beds and real opportunities for the women still out there. We
need better exiting programs. Not a brothel so the millionare white men
who come for 2010 olympics can have better access to violence against


Shame on you if you think that we, the Aboriginal women, are going to advocte for and promote the pro pimp agenda.


I am using my own experience to let you, the public, know what
happened and continues to happen to our Aboriginal women and children. I want to be a voice for the the ones that can't speak out for
themselves because of the circumstances they are in.

When I was fourteen and running away from sexually violent foster
homes, I was looking for my Mom. I was in search of safety, protection
and love.


When I finally found help - it was from women in the feminist movement. They helped me name the violence that was committed against me. They
had the radical notion that that I was a human being; a human being
worthy of safety, respect, dignity, a home and a job or career.

I do live with painful memories of my past, but I am not ashamed
of who I am. Today, I am a Proud, Aboriginal Feminist. And I am proud
to stand with my sisters who oppose violence against women and children
and demand that we be treated with respect and dignity in our homelands!

Not only do we fight for the rights of our Aboriginal women and
children, but we fight for the rights of all women and children to live
violence free and without the threat of becoming prostituted or
trafficked. We fight for the rights of all women and children, because
what happens to Aboriginal women and children happens to women and
children globally.

I want to thank you for being here today and for listening to my
words and joining in the struggle to end violence against women and