A city crackdown on Vancouver’s sex shops may be on the way as a result of a discrimination suit brought against the city by one of the Lower Mainland’s biggest sex retailers.
An affidavit from a city licensing official, filed May 7 in BC Supreme Court, threatens to enforce zoning bylaws, with the promise of injunctions, prosecutions and business licence suspensions against sex shops operating in violation of regulations.
The affidavit stems from a lawsuit filed against the city by Fantasy Factory’s operator, who says the city’s refusal to grant him a licence for his business at Fraser and Kingsway is discriminatory.
Tony Perry initially applied for a licence transfer in 2009. Six months later, he applied for a licence to run a sex shop with video booths that sold toys and videos.
The city inspected the store a month later, found it had no development permit application to change the business from retail to adult entertainment and, on June 8, 2010, issued a cease and desist order.
Both Perry and the property owners were told failure to comply would result in charges being laid. Neighbours demanded the store be shut down, saying it was too close to a local school, a charge Perry denied.
In his May 10 petition to the BC Supreme Court, Perry claims the zoning and development bylaw blocking his business licence unlawfully discriminates against him specifically and adult retail stores in general.
Perry’s petition also points out that many stores licensed in Vancouver after 1995 as retail, grocery or drugstores are, in fact, adult retail stores under the bylaw. But these stores have not been required to apply for development permits, even though many are in zones where adult stores are not permitted.
Perry wants to know why those stores are allowed to continue operating while he can’t get a licence.
“The city has not taken any enforcement steps in relation to these properties and indeed has issued each of these business licences that they were not entitled to,” his petition says.
The May 7 affidavit from Vancouver’s director of licences and inspections says he was aware of the 17 businesses identified in Perry’s petition “that appear to be operating in violation of the City of Vancouver’s Adult Retail Store regulations” without adult retail or entertainment licences.
Will Johnston says he or city staff will meet with the operators of all 17 businesses “to discuss the city’s regulations and the alleged unlawfulness of the operations.”
“I intend to seek to bring the 17 businesses into compliance with the city Adult Retail Store regulations, including the Zoning and Development By-law and the Licence By-law,” Johnston says in the sworn document.
Perry challenges the city’s willingness to tolerate other businesses’ non-compliance but deny him a licence.
“They [city officials] haven’t bothered anyone in 10 years,” Perry says. “They came after me.”
While his store, Perry says in his affidavit, has been called “the Army and Navy of sex stores,” he sells products similar to those found at Womyn’sWare, Little Sister’s and The Art of Loving.
“My stores fulfill an important niche, and that is facilitating sexual health for individuals who do not fit in the targeted class of the other listed stores but have the same needs for positive sexual expression,” he says.
“My stores also function as outlets for . . . my own political expression, which is aimed at the promotion of freedom of expression, including sexual expression, and to create an environment where all who enter feel welcomed and equally deserving of respect and consideration,” he says. “I believe that is an important ideal no matter what the socio-economic class, gender or sexual orientation of my customers.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says he will look into the case and likely comment soon.