Advocates seek Vancouver apology and memorial for displaced West End sex workers

Before sex workers were displaced from the West End in the 1980s, Jamie Lee Hamilton remembers the strong sense of community that the workers shared in the neighbourhood.

“We shared our lives, we supported one another, we created our own strategies around safety and security, we kept the area a pimp-free area, and so that all ended once the displacement occurred,” the long-time advocate for sex workers said in a phone interview with the Straight.

As Hamilton marks the recent 30-year anniversary of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that banned sex workers from the West End, she believes that now is a more crucial time than ever to raise public awareness of the impacts that event had.

She noted that after being banned from the West End in July 1984, sex workers moved to Mount Pleasant, and then to the Downtown Eastside.

“Once…the eviction, as we call it, occurred, three women in the Mount Pleasant area were picked up and murdered and put in shallow graves out in the Mission area,” said Lee.

“So there was that impact, and it just went on and on and on…resulting in the Downtown Eastside killing fields.”

Hamilton added that before the court decision, city council brought in a new ‘street activities’ bylaw, which led to sex workers being fined up to $2,000.

“It really devastated people’s lives,” she said. “I watched that, because, you know, it’s my friends, I was out there—I was one of them that got the $2,000 fine.”

In 2008, Hamilton co-founded the West End Sex Work Memorial Project with UBC professor Becki Ross. They are seeking a formal, public apology from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, and financial reparations for the fines collected. They want to use those reparations to fund a permanent memorial to the displaced sex workers at Davie and Bute streets.

Next week, Hamilton said the memorial committee plans to make a formal submission to city manager Penny Ballem on the issue.

“There was a whole community there, and there’s complete erasure,” Hamilton stated.

“If they’re talking about reconciliation, we also have to talk about reconciliation of this community.”

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Eye Elle
Sex workers are people too, and have a rightful place in history and memory. Profound gratitude to you Jamie Lee, and thanks to your co-organisers. You are an asset to this city. The memorial will be beautiful. Can't wait!
Rating: -23
Always a whore NEVER a housewife !.
Protect the consenting ADULTS and just legalise it !. NO MORE SHAME
Rating: -6
Hamilton - Your are an Idiot!!!!

In the 1980's I used to live at Jervis and Davie and the Hooker scene was Insane!!

I clearly remember Hookers walking out onto Davie Street to try and make me stop my car and having to swerve out of my lane to avoid hitting them. And I do still clearly remember calling the Police at 2:00 AM when I gunshots behind my building woke me up.

Davie Street belongs to the people who live there and call this neighbourhood HOME.

The one hundred or so Hookers who came there to do business can not make any claim to ownership of this area - than is greater than that of the tens of thousands of residents.

Hamilton - Do you remember the Protest Parade of Residents that pushed Mayor Mike Harcourt and Council into making the decision that moved the Hookers east of Granville Street??

Every Thursday - Friday and Saturday night there was a traffic jam in the alley behind my apartment building and after the Law was enacted - overnight the West End became a decent and safe place for thousands of adults and children to live.

Moving Hookers off of Davie Street had nothing to do with the Murder of three women.

Please try and find a copy of the Documentary called "Hookers on Davie" - Hookers lives were is as much danger on Davie Street as anywhere else.

Rating: +34
While I sympathize with the displaced workers, financial reparations serve no purpose.
Rating: +21
I would highly recommend that folks research the attitude and laws governing the "Selling of Sex" by the Governments of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

There is a Humane and Responsible way to deal with this issue that is in practice in many countries.

So how about every person who wants to purchase a sexual Experience - has to bring a Certificate from their Doctor - stating that "THEY ARE DISEASE FREE"!!!!!

Think about that one!!!!!!!
Rating: -3
Interesting read from both perspectives
I looked William Pickton in the eye as I served him his fully-loaded Christmas dinner plate at the Dug Out Soup Kitchen on Christmas eve, 2001. I was a volunteer. He told me he was a certain hooker's 'lawyer'. I did not believe him and sensed he was a creep obviously. I watched him eat dinner with a woman he then escorted out. The same woman had come by to chat with me earlier in the evening, we hugged and I wished her a merry Christmas.

Her picture, among many other faces, was on the front page of the Province within 2 weeks, followed by an insert and an article about a suspected murderer, with a composite sketch. Later, more news surfaced, along with that man's photograph as he was arrested.

I felt sick and still feel sick every time I think of that.

Certainly, an apology to these people is in place. I determined how deeply unsafe parts of Vancouver were that night and left town to make a life elsewhere shortly afterwards, having grown-up in Vancouver. Any woman who is hurt, maimed or murdered, regardless of her profession, is a loss to us as human beings.

While I personally am not acquainted with what sex trade workers deal with, I have worked in Social Services and seen many more women brutalized, along with their children. Who needs it?

Women are our sisters, our mothers...

I 100% agree with the notion above and wish we could just legalize 'prostitution', find another less shame-based way of accepting sex-trade work. How many thousands of men are unhappily married and go there to get what they 'need'? How many couples would like a 'neutral third' and hire a prostitute? No shame, no blame, no guilt. Let's progress. - Rachel Sutton
Rating: -16
nasty natasha
Ifind it despicable on how society treats sex workers
When the reality is that most people have less value than I
Do. Most people would steal lie be corrupt cheat and then use
Me to increase the appearance if their moral superiority
We still work on davie you idiots. If your a man I can work you
Anywhere . Want to get rid of a real problem? Destroy bath houses
Rating: -13
gail need to get your facts straight. The hookers were NOT displaced from davie.....the residents took their neighborhood back!!! Go do your research.
Rating: +19
I've lived in the west end some many years. But not at the time is was full of hookers.

I am an educated, outgoing and by no means prudish person, but I would not want to live somewhere where there are hookers standing on the corners or anyone outwardly selling sex on my doorstep.
We have to admit, casual sex if it's paid for or not is a pretty trashy thing. I can't imagine anyone would want this in their neighbourhood.

Why should anyone have to apologize for cleaning up the west end?
Rating: +26
Bob dobbalina
It was a nightmare in that neighbourhood back then. Just an insane street scene, traffic, noise, trash. Kids hanging out around the church and doing tricks in the bushes. Awful.
Rating: +2
Miguel Sanchez
Now I am all for legalisation and administration of prostitution by I see no need to memorialise what was and remains an illegal activity. If at some point we become more enlightened and legalise all drugs, will we build a memorial to the guys that got killed pushing smack?

I live in the area now and remember it as a kid. It was a nightmare, and projecting this sense of "community amongst the girls" is about as realistic as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

I don't judge for the choices that people make to enter into that work but at the same time I don't think I or anyone else needs to see a memorial to it either. There are a lot more noteworthy achievements that deserve an honour than the government deciding to clean up the sesspool that was Davie St, could they have done a better job of it, of course, but that doesn't mean a need to have it shoved down our throats (no pun intended) 30 years later.
Rating: +5
All this talk about prostitution is worthless without the involvement of the prostitutes and the johns themselves in the dialogue.
Rating: -5
Fight the absurd
This is pathetic. Businesses both legal and illegal have been forced to relocate by government for centuries. What next? A memorial for the alcohol sellers chased from Wreck Beach?
Rating: +4
I was in social work in the late 80s and some of my clients educated me about the Vancouver sex trade. The high track and low track have always had different clientele and risks. While neither was exactly a safe area for SWs, the low track was obviously rougher. Pickton and other creepy-van types chose to prey on the low track where the SWs were less picky, many of them in grisly strung out shape.

So Jamie's actually quite right that pushing the street trade into the low track was bad for the SWs.

But what was the option? The posters here who say that a residential neighbourhood is negatively affected by providers and a heavy car traffic of gross clients circling around, making propositions, are also right. No mom or dad wants to raise their kids in a hooking zone because of the creeps. So they will flee the area, and that pattern of flight will reduce it to a low track zone like, well, the DTES.

On the other hand, no one wants to send the SWs out to die. The Franklin area has had girls on it for as long as I've been in Vancouver, but it has to be a terrifying work environment because it has zero foot traffic at night - when that creepy van rolls up, there's no witness that a girl got inside.

There has to be another way, another place that moves the trade out of a residential area to a commercial area where there are eyeballs, (friendly) cops, where car traffic late at night is a norm and not bothering the locals, and so on.
Rating: -5
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