Town Hall meeting
in East Vancouver

Thursday, February 27, 1997

When I entered the Kiwassa community centre (Nanaimo and Oxford, East Van) I immediately spotted the man I had seen on the memorial march a week earlier.

I follow him into the meeting room, and on the way I picked up a copy of a newspaper article prominently set out in the sitting area at the front.

Wednesday, February 26, The Vancouver Echo printed an article by Mike Bell titled "The Wrong kind of education" the kicker read, "While politicians talk and police try to keep order on the streets, the kids of Macdonald Elementary are getting an education in the seedier side of life."

The article continued:

"Kids and condoms don't mix. Neither do children and working prostitutes, used syringes or any of the other detritus associated with the sex trade. Unfortunately, for the kindergarten to grade seven students at Macdonald Elementary, education in the 1900-block East Hastings Street also means learning about life's ugly side.

"Certainly we find needles and condoms on the grounds," admitted Carole Kaye, first-year principle of Macdonald. "Its not a daily thing, but it's constant and I expect to see more of that as the weather warms up." She says there "have times in previous years where people have been found on the grounds plying their trade," but said for now it's a fact of life for the five-to12-year-olds at Macdonald.

"That's what our children have to see on the streets in the mornings when they walk to schools and we really are very very aware of that. We try to make the kids feel comfortable and wanted here and keep them away from all that as much as we can, but it's just so much in the face of our children.

"Somehow," she said, "everyone has got to work together to get it out of residential areas."

That's the reason Anna Terrana will hold her second forum on prostitution at the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House on Thursday, February 27 at 6:45 p.m.

Anna Teranna is the Liberal MP for Vancouver East. At the entrance to the meeting room a table was set up with a number different notes available from townhall meetings that Anna Teranna had hosted. The Ministerial Task Force on Youth, Immigration and Racism/Hate Crime Related Issues, Child Poverty and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Anna Teranna spoke first. A report of the meeting was to be sent to all Members of Parliament. She talked about some of the issues the Liberal government was trying to address, high risk offenders, sexual predator screening, young offenders, and the Witness Protection Act (these are bills currently before the house.) She also talked about Bill C-8 (?) She informed us that a report is due this spring from the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group in Prostitution after two rounds of consultations. Bill C-27 which deals with prostitution of people under 18 has already passed second reading in the House. Anna also suggested that injunctions were used when prostitutes were moved out of the West End, and perhaps injunctions could be used around schools.

John Turvey from Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS) spoke next. He said that their service targets high risk young people, identifies them and provides intervention. DEYAS now houses the youth detox for the Eastside. They have six outreach workers and a van. They make 14,000 referrals for services a year out of the needle exchange. Turvey claimed that 40 to 60 per cent of the men on the Eastside involved in crime have unresolved warrants elsewhere, and the provinces and cities won't pay to ship them back. Turvey also claimed that 55 per cent of adult women involved in street prostitution started prior to age 15. He said 80 per cent started under 16 - 18. (He stated these stats come from a Solicitor General's study?) Fifty percent of prostitute murders go unsolved. according to Turvey. Turvey talked a lot about predators preying on prostitutes and he talked about trying to offer an exit. Turvey informed the residents that DEYAS would be happy to print up and distribute any information that residents wanted to get to prostitutes, like the No Go Maps they had done previously. DEYAS wants to work with the community. He offered the number of Judy McGuire, head of the needle exchange, if there were dirty needles etc. that needed cleaning up (685-6561) and also the phone number for the youth workers (685-4488)

Head of vice and drugs, Inspector Ken Doern spoke next. Doern informed the room that he would report to the police board on this meeting. He also stated that the article in the Vancouver Sun fell a bit short when it reported on the police decision to stop charging prostitutes. Doern also reported that in a report of (last year's?) arrest statistics for communicating, three per cent were youth (youth being between twelve and seventeen years old).

Doern said that prostitution-related murders are hard to solve because they are stranger-to-stranger. This is the most difficult type of murder case.

In the years 1991-1995, 65 known prostitutes have been murdered. Sixty of them were female. Seven were juveniles. Most of the murders were by clients. Eight were by pimps or drug related.

Doern also stated that almost 99 per cent of prostitution sentences that included imprisonment were women. (Three per cent were men.) He told us the police department had issued a press release yesterday which the press got this morning. (I never saw anything about it the papers.) The strategy of the vice unit would include targeting youth at risk. If someone is pressing and persistent around parks, schools or community centres they will be arrested. The unit wants girls to move away from these areas. They are asking community and outreach agencies to get the word out.

Next spoke Leonard Cler-Cunningham from Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE). The only point Cler-Cunningham made that I wrote was that PACE had only four positions. They won't tolerate the use of children in the sex trade. They won't tolerate violence against anyone. No exploitation in the sex trade. And the sex trade should not be in residential neighbourhoods.

The next speaker was Debora Mearns from the Downtown East Crime Prevention Office. She complained that Bill C-27 made amendments to section 212.4 (procuring minors), to read "who believes she is under the age of eighteen." She seemed pretty angry with the government's lack of leadership in dealing with the issue of juveniles involved in the street trade. "The police only have six officers for vice!" Her organization is looking for private funds to implelement a child and youth protection strategy. They will educate people in neighbourhoods to collect information and turn it over the the Crown prosecutor. They will hire a private investigator. They want a Crown dedicated to the Provincial Prostitution Unit. They will set up a "court watch program" to pack the court room when the customers of children are on trial. (Her phone number is 687-1772?)

The final speaker was a primary school teacher, Noreen Colvin from Sir William Macdonald School, grades kindergarten to seven. She complained that there are needles in the bushes around the school yard. Once she had a child come up from the basement washroom at the school and say there was a needle in the washroom. Colvin thought the child meant a sewing needle. She went down and found a whole syringe. She told of another time when a man ran into the school "freaking out" acting crazy. Some children said they had seen him just stick a needle in his neck.

Colvin said there have been children from the school as young as eleven or twelve -- not many, but a few -- who have gotten involved in prostitution. Usually they are children with a learning disability and they come from disruptive homes. " she says. These kids need one-to-one teaching. They need alternative programs. These kids want to learn. They know that education is important but, "there are no appropriate programs."

Kids also need recreational programs. They need something to do. "There are no recreational options, this is a deprived community."

After all the speakers had spoken, the facilitator suggested that the room break into focus groups. There was a resonating burst of anger from the back half of the room. These were residents of the neighbourhood and they were fuming that they had not been invited to the meeting and now were not going to be able to have their say. They wanted to know who in the room were from this neighbourhood. Why were were only hearing from special interest groups.

The focus group idea was quickly ditched and a speakers list was taken. I declined to get on it. All of the residents got on the list to take a minute to speak. Most were from the Hastings East Neighbourhood Action Group (HENAG). They complained about the condoms and needles on the streets. One man just kept asking and yelling over and over, "Why, when we give them the needles and the condoms for free, why do they throw them on the street?" "Why can't these 'sex workers' or whatever you want to call them just throw them in the garbage," was a question he directed to Jamie Lee Hamilton, who he said represents sex workers. He also complained that the needle exchange van stops on his street.

One woman shouted out, "Did you read about the school that was reported in The Province, on February 4 -- "A School in Crisis." "This is where our kids go to school." There was also a report in the Vancouver Courier on February 9. Girls are working across the street From Sir William Macdonald Elementary (which is on East Hasting the commercial artery of the neighbourhood). As a result of traffic circles put at the ends of residential streets traffic is flowing around Macdonald school. Another resident piped up that the police shouldn't be blamed, it was their neighbourhood group that requested the traffic circles. Doern responded that he was glad to hear that the traffic circles worked in moving the traffic out of the residential neighbourhood because, "It means they work."

There was a lot of concern expressed about the children. the man who shouted about the condoms on the street said he saw a school yard of kids out with tongs picking up garbage He thought it was a good idea that teach kids not to pick up stuff with their bare hands.One woman stated, Our children shouldn't have to even know about it, they shouldn't have to pick it up in the school yard."

One woman, who also supported legal brothels, told a story where a woman went out in front of her house to tell a john to leave, the girl just stayed out of her way. She told him she would write down his licence plate number and give it to the police. "And you know what he did? He handed her a pen out the window!"

A black woman who had a daughter who was a prostitute and who had been murdered also spoke up. She also pleaded for legalized brothels where at least workers would be safe.

After the first round of speakers the tall Asian man in the suite who was from some charitable group that he was reluctant to name, spoke again about prostitutes giving AIDS to their customers. I could stand it no longer and my arm shot up. The facilitator noticed and pointed out that I hadn't spoken all evening. I said that couldn't sit by and let hos be scapegoated for spreading AIDS. "If hos were giving AIDS to their clients there would also be a rise in the incidents of gonhorrea reported in the clinics because gonhorrea has symptoms and gets treated. If you wanted to know if girls were spreading STDs to their clients that is how you would look."

At the end of the meeting Anna Teranna said a few words to wrap up. She noted immediately that there was one resounding point that everyone seemed to agree upon. Legalize it, put it in brothels. She described a little bit about the country she came from (Italy) where there were brothels in the 1950s. There were poor brothels in poor neighbourhoods and big fancy brothels in rich neighbourhoods and it all worked fine. Then Italy got a woman leader and all the brothels were shut down. So it is interesting see that everybody seems to agree that brothels are part of the solution.

Residents of the neighbourhood threatened that the politicians had "better get off their butts and do something or else they would."

After the meeting I talked to Insp. Doern for a couple of minutes. He was cordial, friendly really. (We had met briefly at When Sex Works, a conference in Montreal.) He asked what I was up to these days. He also confided in me that he didn't the tone that threatened vigilante action. He said if some one credible could get the word out on the street to keep away from the schools, that could help ease the tension. I said I'd see what we could do. (I also appreciated Doern's discretion when a resident asked who I was, Doern said I was a "streetworker" and didn't out me to a room full of residents, reporters, and social workers.) At one point I thought Doern was probably the most sincerely understanding person there. After making sure no reporters or residents were around he told me that he would look for "any alternative to sending the girls to jail." It just makes their problems worse. It takes away whatever stability they've got.

I then approached the MP and asked for more information on Bill C-27. This bill will have change existing laws dealing with procuring the sexual services of someone under 18. I gave her my number so she could send me the contact information for a clerk to send submissions on the bill to.

Part of what I saw in that room too were parents teaching their children to hate prostitutes. To stigmatize them and demonize them out of the fear that their children too might someday turn to prostitution. I spoke to the black woman who had spoke earlier and told her I was sorry to hear of her loss. She said kids don't grow up wanting to be a prostitute. I told her I thought there some that really did. "Well, not my daughter," she retorted. Oops!


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Created: March 23, 1997
Last modified: March 6, 1999
SWAV Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710