It’s a great time to be female—in a non-Muslim country, that is. After centuries of second-class status, suffrage begat progress. And in 2011, for all intents and purposes, equality rules.
In British Columbia, Christy Clark is premier. (She wasn’t elected, but that’s still pretty good.) Four women sit on Vancouver city council representing all three major civic parties. The city’s highest paid—and arguably most powerful—employee, city manager Penny Ballem, is a woman.
Famed feminist Camille Paglia once said, “Women are in league with each other, a secret conspiracy of hearts and pheromones.” That may be true. But considering the major role women play in local politics, two recent decisions speak to the corruption of both genders.
In response to Robert Pickton’s multi-year murder spree, the province created the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry expected to begin later this year. Purportedly, the inquiry will investigate police conduct between 1997 and 2002 when women were reported missing from the Downtown Eastside. All of Pickton’s victims were women, many of them prostituted and aboriginal. Yet in May, Clark’s government denied legal assistance to 13 aboriginal and women’s groups hoping to participate in the inquiry.
Two weeks ago, Wally Oppal, former B.C. attorney-general and inquiry commissioner, penned a letter to current attorney-general Barry Penner. “Failure to fund the participant organizations,” wrote Oppal, “would leave disenfranchised women and victims in a clearly unfair position at the hearing.” A quick phone call from Clark to Penner would right this wrong. But Clark, in her power suit and “Families First” smile, won’t budge.
Meanwhile at city hall, nobody talks about prostitution—the number one human rights issue in Vancouver. Prostituted women toil on the streets and in de facto brothels, which each pay a $226 yearly business licence fee to city hall. Rather than help, city council hurts. Last March, council unanimously approved a new social housing project at 120 Jackson, ground-zero for drugs and prostitution in the Downtown Eastside. Pickton’s old stomping ground.
According to the plan, Atira Women’s Resource Society will transform the old International Inn, built as a brothel in 1912, into a single-room-occupancy home for at least 25 troubled teenage girls, aged 16 to 19. The plan oozes with medieval charm. Drug dealers, pimps and johns are licking their chops.
“It’s a building with a public address in the Downtown Eastside,” says Cherry Smiley, spokeswoman for the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. “So we’re very concerned for the safety of our young girls.”
Post-Pickton, little has changed in the Downtown Eastside. Pimps and dealers still run the show. It’s a very dangerous place. No place for teenagers. During an April interview with the Courier, Janice Abbott, executive director of Atira, said teenage girls will be safe in 120 Jackson’s little rooms but provided no evidence to back up that claim. Smiley, and others who work with women in the Downtown Eastside, understand the importance of location when housing vulnerable teenage girls. “It has to be outside the Downtown Eastside. I would like to see something based on a transition house for battered women and children, something more along that model of communal living that’s, again, outside of the Downtown Eastside.”
Unfortunately, although final permits are pending, 120 Jackson is a fait accompli. Atira is courting two “house moms” for the project. According to a Craigslist job posting, applicants “must subscribe to a feminist analysis of violence against women.” How prophetic. Thanks to inevitable future disasters spawned by 120 Jackson, there’ll be ample opportunity to analyze violence.
Incidentally, Abbott, Atira’s woman in charge, is married to Shayne Ramsay, CEO of B.C. Housing, which doles out taxpayer millions to Atira and other social housing firms in the Downtown Eastside. Atira operates several women’s only housing projects while Atira’s for-profit subsidiary, Atira Property Management, manages 17 single-occupancy hotels.
Abbott’s a modern-day success, a liberated money-maker. Unfortunately, the latest wrong-headed addition to Atira’s social housing empire helps cast men and women in historical roles. Villain and victim, flesh merchant and fresh meat.