Friday, October 08, 2004


Underbelly News
Downtown East side


Will it be open season on sex trade workers if Vancouver moves to a ward-based-governance model?

A little known fact is that in the Thomas Berger proposed boundaries for wards, there are seven (7) active sex trade strolls, located within these proposed wards. These proposed wards and the (strolls) are:

1) West End - (Davie Village)
2) Downtown -(Boys town)
3) Strathcona/Grand view Woodlands- (Low Track)
4) Hastings Sunrise - (Franklin/Mid Track)
5) Renfrew Colling wood - (Joyce Station)
6) Cedar Cottage/Kensington - (King sway)
7) Mount Pleasant -(Fraser King sway)

Historically in Vancouver, street prostitution has been targeted for its nuisance factor by NIMBY groups. Consequently, sex trade workers are often left out in the cold, as resident or community associations, spring into action and create citizen & security patrols to harass and intimidate prostitutes.

NIMBY elements usually require three elements. A real or perceived problem, an individual to stir up a neighborhood and an individual(s) willing to listen.

NIMBY or ward organizations have had considerable success in Vancouver. The ensuing result has been the countless murders and victimization of Vancouver sex trade workers. From 1985 until 1999, over one hundred sex trade workers have been plucked from Vancouver city streets and brutally murdered.

Why is this?

Well, for the most part, sex trade workers have been largely treated as either throw-a-ways or criminals in our city. Often, politicians listen and place greater importance on citizen groups and their complaints over marginalized individuals.

In fact, in a ward based electoral system in the 70s, the attorney general of the day, along with his colleagues imposed a regressive injunction on sex trade workers in the West End. The injunction was brought about as a result of an angry citizens group. This forced sex trade workers out of the West End neighborhood. Moreover, the actions created a spill over effect, moving prostitution into other neighborhoods.

From the earliest citizen patrols of the West End and Mount Pleasant to the Dickens group who operate in the Cedar Cottage neighborhoods, these NIMBY groups all share the same philosophy.

Their mandate is built on NIMBYism. NIMBY refers to the not in my back yard mentality. What these citizens desire, is to rid their streets of what they deem undesirables. It is difficult for these groups to harass men who purchase the services of sex workers, so instead, they resort to bullying tactics in attempts to sweep working girls from their streets.

In Canadian cities such as Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto, which all have ward based municipal government--the citizens patrols create havoc. They put extreme pressure on their local ward councilor to do something. In Toronto, longtime city councilor Kyle Rae served on Metro council, however, once Toronto moved to the mega city ward based election, Mr Rae needed to represent localized neighborhood concerns. Previously, he championed the rights of marginalized individuals. Once though Mr Rae had to represent local issues, he decided to pay closer attention to those in his ward who enjoyed greater influence in life. This included homeowners and business groups. The result--Mr Rae began acting like a NIMBY Councilor. Instead of speaking up for those marginalized individuals he once proudly assisted--he championed instread, the rights of NIMBY groups.

Another local Toronto politician Jack Layton, now leader of the NDP, represented in the 80's, a local ward with an active sex trade stroll. Neighbors were concerned over the traffic this stroll created. They lobbied Mr Layton to do something. Mr Layton and the city obliged by installing cement barriers. This was to impede traffic flow, which was thought would decrease prostitution. Now this same neighborhood, 15 years later wants these traffic barriers re-moved as they are unsightly and serve no purpose. Of course, the prostitution stroll is still in place.

Locally, a glaring example of this type of activity happening is in the Hastings Sunrise neighborhood. A resident/business group formed in 1999 called OZ. It stands for Orange Zone. The key spokesperson for the group is Cindy Chan-Piper. Ms Chan-Piper is infamous for stirring the pot. She scares her neighbors into action by saying that prostitutes are ruining their neighborhood. She even raised the bar with unfounded claims that sex trade workers are lowering their property values. Chan-Piper was quoted in the Vancouver Sun in 2000 saying, " we are going to move sex trade workers out of our community--one block at a time".
Ms Chan-Piper was assisted by police and government officials.

Well as history unfolded, citizens of Vancouver bore witness to the ensuing carnage. Moving sex trade workers, one block at a time, as we know, pushed prostitutes far more than the desired one block. They moved for sure, but tragically wound up massacred at an isolated pig farm in Coquitlam.

With wards will come increased ward neighborhood organizations and NIMBYism. These well funded groups, will have the strength, clout, resources and money to lobby their ward councilor to act in their interests. Sex trade workers up against a neighborhood group is no match. Its a slam dunk.

In a ward based system, councilors will prioritize the political importance of their constituents. A sex trade worker will be treated as disposable, because the neighborhood group or BIA can deliver to a politician far more votes than a sex worker ever could. A sex worker to a politician is one vote, whereas a NIMBY group represents a number of votes.

A recent example of political prioritization and vote buying will occur. Just look at the recent slots in Hastings park issue.

Councilor Raymond Louie of COPE who resides in Hastings Sunrise, voted in favor of slots even though the majority of citizens in his neighborhood opposed gambling in the publicly owned Hastings park. Mr Louie was quite frank in his support of slots. He was supportive first and foremost, to the Unions who were in favor of the proposed slots. Mr Louie is also a union member and hence, heavily lobbied other councilors for their support. They imposed what would personally benefit them. They did this even though the majority's wishes was not to have slots.

Mr Louie, also sensing if Vancouver adopted wards, he would require money for a successful campaign. The Unions could deliver to Mr Louie far more capital and resources than ordinary citizens of his neighborhood.

Back to prostitution and wards. Since both these issues involve the transfer of money, its important to raise flags, on how ward politicians may act opportunistically with a ward based governance model. After all, in fairness to Mr Louie, it wouldn't be the first time, politicians succumbed to the intoxicating affects money brings.

Councilor Jim Green of COPE upon his successful election in 2002, claimed on national media, that his vote could be bought but it didn't come cheap. Mr Green, as many know, is in favor of wards. However, Mr Green antics paints a far worse scenario of ward politics.

The idea that corruption may creep into politics should be a warning to voters that certain councilors will resort to providing their support in exchange for money or other benefits.
Any number of ward associations, business or religious groups targeting a specific councilor and requesting favors, may obtain the desired result just by offering what the politician most wants. With a nudge and a wink, an envelope, containing cash is placed in the hands of a politician for their vote.

We do not have to look far back in history to remember this happening. It was in a ward system that former Premier Vander Zalm accepted $20,000.00, slid to him in an envelope, in a private meeting. This money was in exchange for his support for a re-zoning of his biblical theme park and home. His busines was up for sale. The individual who provided the envelope to Mr VanderZalm was the buyer of the business.

So could these situations occur in civic politics? Yes, already to some degree they have. Escort agencies if they pay protection money to the city, operate very lucrative prostitution businesses, with licenses provided by the city. However, the license fee is one of the highest category fees in the city. The only fees higher is the racetrack and PNE. Escort agencies download this license fee onto to the backs of their workers. Many workers, to secure this protection, must pay a book-on fee to the agency. In turn, these very high fees are turned over to the city and put into general revenue.

Imagine if you will, a scenario where street prostitutes had to pay a book-on fee to the city in order to work city streets. Well, if wards come along, this very well could happen.
Politicians feeling the heat and wrath of NIMBY groups to rid sex workers from the namely east side strolls and wards, would need to devise a plan that provides comfort to the NIMBY individuals.

In turn, the city, in a ward based system, creates a situation that unobtainable licensing fees for street sex trade workers be implemented. This isn't a far stretch as Mayor Campbell of COPE, who also favors wards,is already on the record saying that he prefers the creation of a red light district. How it would work, he hasn't said. Mr Teichroeb, chief license inspector of Vancouver, though, says the high fees of escort services are to curtail escorting, read prostitution.

In a regulated area, only those who could afford the high license fee could work there. Many sex workers who live at the poverty level and wouldn't be able to pay a restrictive license fee. The politician can than feel good, since they have appeased the NIMBY group from their ward, by appearing to address the issue. Of course, this would only push the sex trade further underground, or into other dark deserted areas where the organized criminal elements in our city are the only ones who benefit. Since the city accepts hush money, this too means that they too are complicit in this organized criminality.

Street prostitutes, as we know will always be part of Vancouver's culture and landscape. Giving more power to NIMBY groups to combat the street prostitution issue, as wards will surely do, will create further harm to sex workers. Of course, the spillover effect of ward politicians gaining more political power is also likely since the politician must respond, positively to NIMBY acts or else the politician can say goodbye to their career. In this scenario, politicians will treat sex workers as they do their trash.

From 1999-2002, prostitution in Vancouver had been viewed at large. This is a credit to at-large councilors who cared enough about this issue to do something about it. Tackling the prostitution issue from an at large perspective, they had the vision to forsee that prostitution needed addressing from a good public policy perspective. These at-large politicians included Lynne Kennedy, Nancy Chiavario and Jennifer Clarke. Collectively, they opened the door to this issue, allowing us to take one small step forward. Moving through that door resulted in the creation of a report now before the police board to inviting family members of prostitutes to address councilors.

I sincerely hope that Vancouver citizen do not step backward and allow NIMBY groups and NIMBY politicians to take control, moving us backward. In fact, since 2002, COPE councilors, who have a large majority on council and who favor a ward system, hasn't yet addressed this matter. From 2002-2004, another eight (8) local sex trade workers have been added to the Downtown eastside missing women file.

Please dear readers, if you want to see some badly needed progress on this sex trade issue, please reject wards. For society to advance, good public policy must prevail. Important public policy issues must take precedence over localized neighborhood issues.

If Sex trade workers are ever to obtain some measure of justice, please say No to wards. What's in the greater public good and interest demands it...

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361