The committee of council hearing to decide whether the Fox Adult Film Cinema on Main St. and 8th Ave. should potentially have its business license revoked or suspended by the city has caused a stir of emotions, and it’s really no wonder. It has all the mixings for a complicated mess of disagreement and intrigue: prostitution and drugs, a neighbourhood facing gentrification, morality and law, business interests, community safety and undercover investigations.
The Fox has been open on Main St. since 1983 (as its sign proudly states), and in that time the Mount Pleasant community has changed significantly for the better. While prostitution and drug activity were both very visible in the past, the last ten years have seen a transformation into a bustling commercial district disparaged more for its plague of hipsters than for any resemblance to the tragic situation at Main and Hastings.
The Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association (BIA) and some of its members are concerned that the decades of community improvement successes are in danger of sliding back due to “collateral damage” in the streets and alleyways stemming from activities that take place within the Fox cinema. This is what Jim Dreichel, who is co-owner of Mine hair salon (Main and Broadway) and a former counselor at Vancouver Detox, wishes to emphasize while speaking on behalf of the BIA during the hearing.
“What makes me the most crazy about this is that it’s very simple,” Dreichel says. “It has nothing to do with morality, it has nothing to do with prostitution, it has nothing to do with sex… and the final thing is that it has absolutely nothing to do with supposed gentrification of the neighbourhood and pushing people out.”
He argues that the closing of Chinatown’s Venus adult film theatre in 2007 brought in a larger volume and a different clientele. Dreichel and others also say there has been increased instances of obvious prostitution, drug exchanges and syringes nearby the Fox cinema, yet the owner for the past 10 years, Xiaohua “Lisa” Huang, refuses to address the issue.
In an article by the CBC she unsurprisingly brushed off the prostitution issue saying that the problem is everywhere in Vancouver and that the Fox does not allow entry to known prostitutes (although, as Dreichel points out, Huang has argued that 90 per cent of her clientele are male, as though prostitution only takes place between men and women). At the first hearing on March 24th, Huang characterized the Fox as a sort of “social club” and only admitted to witnessing sexual acts between patrons “once in awhile.”
Yet numerous sex acts and prostitution within the cinema were witnessed by police, including Constable Mark Jarvie, who went undercover after receiving complaints by neighbours.
But this is the thing: if it’s not about sex, prostitution or morality – which I find difficult to believe from the perspective of the city – then who cares what’s going on in there? If it’s about the “collateral damage”, where is the evidence that this is really such a problem? To put words to what a lot of people in the community are asking: show us that this is really about more than personal moralities and vested interests to turn Fox into something more “refined”.
It would no doubt be easier to take a position on the issue if the sex and drug-related overspill was more widely witnessed by both small business owners and residents of the area. Of approximately 15 different people I know who pass the cinema on a daily basis and/or work nearby, not a single one could even remember seeing someone enter or leave the cinema, let alone any lewd acts in public (although it’s true that most customers enter through the back).
Many of the other businesses on the block seem to have no problem with the cinema, and have a “mind your own business” stance in the truest sense.
In the Vancouver Sun, John Robertson of John’s Juke’s Ltd made his viewpoint clear: “I’ve seen no evidence of increased criminal activity – no johns, no needles or condoms in the alley. Our worst problem here is the homeless…. I don’t like seeing people railroaded out, and that’s what it feels like to me. I think people are trying to upscale the neighbourhood.”
Other businesses I spoke with did not wish to speak publicly on the matter but expressed an overall sense that all the fuss over the Fox Cinema is more a waste of time and energy for the community than anything. A questionnaire handed out to local businesses by Huang last week obtained nearly 40 replies that said they did not feel their businesses had been adversely affected by the Fox.
I don’t doubt the reports of controversial sexual acts, nor the abundance of various bodily fluids within the theatre’s walls, but if the patrons of the Fox continue to frequent the joint is there really a need for interference by ‘concerned’ citizens on their behalf?
There has never actually been an arrest made in the Fox, which suggests what happens inside is consensual, albeit not regulated through membership, as in bathhouses (where payment for sex is not allowed either). The BIA would be more likely to support the Fox if Huang takes action to run her business in a more responsible and sanitary way, with Dreichel adding that if his hair salon must follow strict health regulations the Fox should have to as well.
“There is nothing pretty about someone who is prostituting themselves because 95 per cent of people that do are doing it are doing it because they need to get money to buy drugs… I just feel like she’s like a madam of a whorehouse and she’s living off the backs of the people that need the most help,” says Dreichel, speaking from his experience working in the Downtown Eastside.
I completely respect the concerns for Vancouver’s marginalized and destitute, but that is a whole separate issue. I mean, how could the potential closure of the Fox cinema tackle the cycle of drug addiction and prostitution that many women and men in Vancouver face?
“It’s just a band-aid solution,” says Erika Kinast, who has lived in Mount Pleasant for three years, about the sudden pressure on the cinema. “It’s just an easy way to make it look like you’re fixing a big problem.”
The hearing is set to continue on May 13th.
Fresh from Calgary’s SAIT with a journalism diploma, Rhianon Bader did not really know anything about the world and thought this might be problematic. After six months traveling around Latin America with her skateboard and camera, she took her BA Hons. in Political Science and International Relations from UBC. In these four years she invested $450 in an old Honda motorcycle, lived in France and Spain, and wrote for news and skateboarding publications. She currently lives in East Vancouver, and works as a freelance writer and copy editor.