3 min

Fear of sex toys

City hall harasses Source Adult over dildos

Credit: Wendy D

Sex shop operator Thomas Hicks likens an adult’s choice to go into one of his stores to watching television. If you don’t like the show, don’t watch the channel, he says.

But, he says, Vancouver city hall wants to decide for adults whether or not they should have that choice.

The district manager of Source Adult says city inspectors have told him he can’t sell anything that resembles a penis. And, he asks, if that’s the case, why is a nearby convenience store being allowed to sell pens? They’re somewhat phallic, he points out.

What’s frustrating Hicks further is that the zoning at his Granville St location supposedly does not allow him to sell sex toys, whereas under the same bylaw the bank kitty-corner to one of his shops theoretically could.

Hicks says he’s had enough. The case is now in the hands of a lawyer who’s going to deal with the city’s morality police in court.

“Anybody who’s over 18, they should have the right to go into which stores they want,” he says. “If they don’t want to come into ours, great. They have that right.”

What’s aggravating to Hicks is that he’s been told he can sell videos and magazines but toys are a no-no.

“In other words, people are allowed to watch absolutely everything being done to a human being that can be done in a sexual manner but they’re not allowed to do it in any kind of safe form,” Hicks says. “I passed frustrated a couple of months ago.”

What’s more, he adds, when he went to city hall, he was told the law was antiquated and shouldn’t really be there.

“When it comes down to any types of toys, that’s where it’s discriminating against our customers,” he says. “It’s a lot of outdated thinking being enforced in a society or a city where it’s no longer valid.”

While deputy chief licensing inspector Barb Windsor could not speak to the specific case of Source Adult, she surmised the stores could have been warned if they had some form of graphic displays in the windows. There would be no issue with the sale of adult toys, she says.

However, Windsor agrees with Hicks on the bylaw.

“We live in a different society than when the bylaw was written,” she says. “It may have to be changed.”

Janna Sylvest of Womyns’Ware on Commercial Dr says her store hasn’t experienced the city harassment that Hicks has, but sex toys can be clearly seen from the street through the shop’s huge windows.

She theorizes the problem may lie not so much with Source’s operation but with the city’s complaint investigation mechanism.

“They’ll follow up on any complaint no matter how hair-schemed it might be,” Sylvest says. “It could be a direct competitor who’s filing a complaint.”

But, Sylvest says, with complaints remaining anonymous, the business being investigated can’t find out who’s pointing the finger.

And, she adds, there are not enough licence inspectors in the city.

“So when a licence inspector shows up, it’s almost always complaint driven. It’s never inspection driven. They don’t exercise any form of judgement about who’s complaining and what other motivations they might have or how off the wall they might be.”

Sylvest says Womyns’Ware once had to deal with an inspector who showed up after someone complained there were razors in their planters that might harm cats.

Hicks agrees on the silliness of some complaints, pointing to the complaint years ago about the Little Mermaid statue in Stanley Park being naked. It now wears a wetsuit. (The statue is a copy of the unchanged figure in Copenhagen to honour Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale character.)

It’s not the first time the city’s licence inspectors have targeted adult stores.

In 2002, sex shop operators were told they couldn’t sell toys. Then came the other end of the double whammy. Licence fees jumped by 100 percent. And operators were told sex shops had to stay at least 305 metres away from all elementary and secondary schools, daycares, playgrounds and community centres. And they couldn’t get very close to each other, either.

Vancouver’s chief licence inspector, Paul Teichroeb, who is on holiday, has said in the past that sex shops require a lot of costly monitoring, pointing to the city’s need to check up on private viewing booths and window displays to make sure they comply with all the rules.

Tim Stevenson, Vancouver’s gay city councillor, has been opposed to the legislating of morality since before his election. Prior to his joining council in 2002, Stevenson had decried the licence fee increase, saying the former NPA-dominated council had decided it had “the right to decide on our morality.”

Now Stevenson says he’s going to consult with the licensing department and see how the bylaws are being applied and what can be done to change them if needed. He said many governments have traditionally felt they should legislate morality but that it is an outdated form of thinking about the role of government.

“The bylaw was probably written a long time ago,” he says. “I’d certainly be in favour of getting government out of the morality policing job.

“I think government has been in a lot of areas it shouldn’t have been in, but that was the culture of the day and culture is changing,” Stevenson says.


Stores at 2838 E Hastings & 7994 Granville.