Pro-prostitution carnival hijacks community roundtable

Mark Hasiuk, Vancouver Courier

Published: Tuesday, March 24,
2009

Wednesday, March 18, 12:45 p.m.
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.
1:17 p.m.
Suddenly, Libby Davies, from her back row perch, chastises the
students for their disorganization before issuing an ultimatum. “Maybe you
should take a few minutes to work things out, and then we’ll decide whether we
should stay or leave.”
Note: Davies. Ringleader.
1:18 p.m.
Students huddle around their table, converse in hushed tones
that hang in the stale air. We all watch from our comfortable blue chairs.
1:19 p.m.
The pro-prostitution crowd regroups around Hamilton’s second-row
seat. Rabid pro-prostitution advocate Esther Shannon appears agitated. Hamilton
and Shannon glance, nod in my direction. I turn towards Miranda, the friendly
UBC kinetics grad. She shrugs, makes a crooked face.
1:20 p.m.
Students, pro-prostitution advocates engage in mysterious
back-and-forth, from huddle to huddle. Looks like a touch-football game. Young
Asians versus old white women.
1:25 p.m.
Students reconvene the meeting-again. Lead student clears his
throat. Hamilton interrupts. “Let’s ask Mark Hasiuk to disclose that he’s an
abolitionist.” (I’ve written past columns critical of pro-prostitution
philosophy.)
A short unidentified man, sitting near Libby Davies, bellows
from the top row. “We want him to leave!”
“Who’s we?” I ask. More awkward
silence.
1:26 p.m.
Students halt proceedings-again. Huddle around their table.
We’ve seen this movie before.
1:28 p.m.
Students disband. Pale, sweaty male addresses the room.
“Considering the strong feelings on this issue, we would like to ask the media
member to leave.”
1:29 p.m.
Thank God. Rising from my seat, I bid Miranda farewell, before
addressing Davies. “What do think, Libby? You’re an MP. I’m getting tossed from
a public meeting for no good reason.” “Don’t pin this on me!” she says. “You’re
being provocative!”
1:32 p.m.
Back onto rain-soaked streets. Take several deep breaths of
fresh air.  Gladly pay $8 parking fee.
mhasiuk@vancourier.com
www.markhasiuk.com

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