B.C. high school students target strip club for ‘social justice’ class project

·National Affairs Contributor
It's considered a sport to some but most feel it should just stay in a strip club.

Vancouver has a notorious reputation for its strip clubs, places like No. 5 Orange and the famed Penthouse, where a young man might go to firm up his knowledge of female anatomy.

Word of these no-holds-barred (well, not quite, unless you want your anatomy rearranged by some large men) dens of iniquity apparently has filtered out to the suburbs, to Ken Ipe's Grade 12 social justice class at Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam.

They decided as a class project they'd try to shut down one of these black holes of female exploitation. The project is a final requirement in the class, which sounds a lot more proactive than the social studies course I had in high school.

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They didn't have to go all the way to downtown Vancouver. Their target was the Paramount Gentleman's Club in New Westminster, the Fraser River waterfront city just east of Vancouver.

Ipe told the New Westminster News Leader classes normally tackle international issues such as genocide or famine but his class of 60 students wanted to do something more local.

"It's a tougher one to do," he said. "Anything local you affect locally. Sometimes if it's a faraway issue there's less chance of biting you in the future."

The students launched a petition last weekend, spending Saturday afternoon collecting signatures from New Westminster residents.

"The goal is to present it to city council in New Westminster and also the goal is to—I know it sounds radical—but for council not to renew its business licence as a stepping stone to ending sexism in culture," said Ipe.

"Men can go in there and treat women as objects and it isn't fair to them," student Ryan Leppert told the News Leader.

Ryan said he doesn't accept that women have a right to choose to be strippers, prostitutes or porn stars.

"We don't believe it is [their choice], we believe it is a desperate attempt to get money or a lot of them have been forced into it," he said.

"I know I used to joke about strip clubs, they were just kind of funny, but after learning everything that goes on in them I don't find it funny at all. It's a serious matter."

Ipe said girls are sexualized at a young age in today's culture and youth come to see porn as normal.

He said students chose the Paramount over picketing a local porn shop because some students from the school who are over 18 have visited the club, which does not serve liquor.

The original plan to picket the Paramount was scrapped because it doesn't open until the evening, when it was considered unsafe for students to be there.

Students set up a few blocks away Saturday afternoon but news coverage of their project drew a counter-demonstration from feather-boaed club employees angry at the threat to their jobs.

“I’d like them to understand that we employ a lot of beautiful, intelligent women, who are empowered to make their own decisions about their bodies and about their path in life,” manager Ashley Pitts told CTV News.

Pitts said the students should have contacted the club before launching their petition, something Ipe admits they didn't try to do.

“Did we try to talk directly to Paramount? No, but we did research them though," he said.

Club owner Steven Mountford told the News Leader he was "blindsided" by the petition.

"I believe in everyone's freedom of speech and right to protest, first and foremost. But to date no one from the school has contacted me to open a dialogue," said Mountford. "I find it kind of appalling if you're in an education system and you don't [present the other side]. It doesn't make sense to me.

"We serve juice, we're one block from the police station. In 10 years we've never had a problem here. I'm a little disturbed someone's coming from Coquitlam to bother an establishment that has been here for 20 years."

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Mountford probably has little to fear. New Westminster Coun. Bill Harper said it's unlikely council would be able to revoke the club's business licence, which has five years to run, without ending up in court.

"It's really a moral issue or ethical view in terms of what adults can see or participate in that kind of activity, and I'm not sure we have any jurisdiction in that kind of thing," he told the News Leader.

If the end comes for the Paramount, probably it'll be from gentrification as the once seedy area is made over in a surge of redevelopment along the waterfront.

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