Friends and foes of the Paramount Gentlemen's Club squared off on opposing sides of the street in Uptown New Westminster on Saturday.
As part of a social justice class project, students at Dr. Charles Best Secondary in Coquitlam are petitioning city council to close down the Columbia Street business. The petition asks city council to revoke the Paramount's licence and to consider the effect that strip clubs have on the community.
On Saturday, students and their supporters stationed themselves on one corner of Sixth and Sixth, where they collected signatures on their petitions. Across the street, Paramount supporters and employees rallied in support of the longtime New Westminster business.
Ryan Lepper, one of the students involved in the petition, told the Coquitlam NOW that at least 300 people have signed the petition.
"I think our class almost enjoyed the protestors on the other side of the street, because we were able to approach them, or vice versa, and ask them questions," he wrote in an email to The Record's sister publication. "One girl came over, though, and was pole dancing on a street sign right in front of our table, though, which I think made some people uncomfortable. But overall, both groups were peaceful, and there were no physical confrontations that I was aware of."
Lepper feels the rally was a success and was pleased with the positive feed-back students received. He noted most of what he saw about the strip club on Twitter, Facebook, and other online sites was very negative.
"It was really interesting just to hear everyone's opinions on the matter though, and although many people were dead set that strip clubs are a positive for the community, I know that myself, and some other classmates changed people's opinion towards them," he said. "The media attention we received was awesome."
Lepper has found some of the "negative feedback" to be disappointing, but added that people are entitled to have their own views.
"I had conversations with numerous people on Facebook and Twitter, and I wasn't too surprised at the people who spoke out against us. Unfortunately, I think that some people who support us are too nervous to stand up just because of how many people were against us, and how aggressive some people got online," he wrote. "We had a great turnout though for our protest, and I'm glad that I got the opportunity to stand up for something that I strongly believe in."
Mayor Wayne Wright's email has been flooded with more than 200 letters from people who support the Paramount.
"My phone didn't stop on the weekend," he added. "I only heard from the one side."
Steven Mountford, owner of the Paramount Gentlemen's Club, posted comments on the business's Facebook page stating that he isn't angry with the students but at the "adults with an agenda" who are influencing them. As of early Monday, Mountford stated that no one from the school or the Coquitlam school board had tried to contact him or his staff about the issue. Mountford couldn't be reached for comment by The Record's deadline.
In his Facebook statement, Mountford said he doesn't feel the Paramount promotes the objectification of women and believes it does the reverse - it empowers them. He believes the protesters "crossed the line" and have linked human trafficking and prostitution to their cause, failing to differentiate between these very different activities.
"The students have failed to do in-depth research into the issues surrounding Paramount dancers," he wrote. "Shutting down my club does not resolve the issues and does not help the women employed in any way. Their campaign fails to respect the personhood of the dancers and does not give them onus over their own lives. We provide valuable jobs to dancers and bar staff."
Keith Coueffin, the city's manager of licensing and integrated services, said the city is unaware of any issues with the Paramount from the perspective of policing, nuisance or noncompliance with bylaws and regulations. The Community Charter includes provisions for cities to revoke a business licence, a process that involves a hearing before city council.
"The Community Charter specifies that a business licence may be refused or revoked for reasonable cause," he said of matters such as violating bylaws or regulations or causing community disturbances or nuisances. "None of those conditions exist with respect to this business."
According to Coueffin, the City of New Westminster does not have the authority to regulate businesses based on morality issues.
"It's one of the better run places in the city with the least calls and the least problems," said Wright, who is also chair of the New Westminster Police Board.
Chief Const. Dave Jones of the New Westminster Police Department said there were four calls to the club in 2011 and three calls in 2012, none of which related to criminal activity.
The seven calls were for mischief and break and enter, as well as calls from the Paramount regarding activities happening outside its premises.