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Bank Street BDSM display sparks controversy

Wicked Wanda's employee Portia Young says people who are offended by BDSM don't understand the subculture. Credit: Bradley Turcotte
So much for shades of grey. One Ottawa woman is seeing red because of a holiday display in the window of a Bank Street adult store.
 
Shannon Lee Mannion, a former Ottawa Citizen automotive columnist, says Wicked Wanda’s playful BDSM window scene featuring Barbie and Ken dolls is “indecent” and degrading to women.
 
Mannion first complained about the diorama, inspired by the bestseller 50 Shades of Grey, because she said it was inappropriate for children. So the store installed a barrier so young children passing by would not see Barbie chained to a Saint Andrew’s Cross or a couple of role-playing Ken dolls bent over in full throttle.
 
But Mannion is still not satisfied. “No one in a wheelchair can see the display,” she says. “It’s going to have to come down because it’s an infraction of human rights.”
 
Michael Tattersall, National Leather Pride co-producer, says Mannion is the only person with a problem.  
 
“I think the controversy is only in one person’s mind — the complaining one. If they have the time to spend actively working to suppress fun and flights of fantasy and to waste city resources on a regular basis, they obviously don’t have enough to do,” he says. “There is nothing offensive about placing toys, dolls and action figures together in suggestive situations; we all did it as kids.”

Meanwhile, Wicked Wanda’s staff have – like the dolls in the display – been bending over backward to placate Mannion. Crystal Balser, who runs Mod Tattoo in Wicked Wanda’s, has offered to adjust the barrier if her disabled customers wish to see the dolls.
 
Children see much worse scenes than dolls with whips and chains every day in music videos, says Sharman Potechin, National Capital Leather Pride’s co-producer.
 
“I don’t think children should be exposed to anything that could scar them for life,” Potechin says. “I don’t think this falls into that category. If Barbie wants to simulate going down on Ken’s mound, I don’t see a problem with that.”
 
Mannion says she has complained to the Bank Street Business Improvement Area (BIA), Councillor Diane Holmes and the Centretown Citizens Community Association in an attempt to have the scene removed.
 
Wanda Cotie, the owner of Wicked Wanda’s, says the controversy over the leather-clad dolls is overblown.

“I don’t look to offend people. However, I do think people often have their heads in the sand,” she says. “I do push things sometimes. If I have business owners say, ‘Now you’re affecting my business,’ then I’m willing to talk to them.”

Wicked Wanda’s employee Portia Young says BDSM is not degrading to women, and she thinks community members who are offended by the display don’t understand it.

“In order for people to have a proper BDSM relationship, they enter into a contract, and it’s always discussed and talked about,” Young says. “It’s always consensual. It’s not just about men dominating women.”
 

Robert Dekker, vice-president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, says he is not aware of any complaints about the display. But Gerry LePage, Bank Street BIA executive director, estimates his organization has received four to six complaints from community members who want the dolls removed.
 
However, LePage says it is not the BIA’s mandate to determine what is appropriate for businesses to display.

“We leave that up to the storeowner at their own discretion,” LePage says, noting he has mentioned the complaints to Cotie.
 

Paul Forget says he stopped by the store on Dec 12 to tell Wicked Wanda’s staff he supports the display.
 
“I don’t see anything offensive. This is downtown; this is the gay and lesbian neighbourhood,” he says. “I just wanted to walk in and say, ‘Keep your window display; don’t cave to the pressure from the few because the silent majority doesn’t see anything offensive in that.’”
 
Doug Saunders, owner of gay adult store Wilde’s, says Cotie should not back down. “It’s complete crap,” he says.
 
But Mannion says the fight is not over, vowing to take further action if Cotie doesn’t remove the display.
 
“We will picket the store if this continues. This has to be changed,” she says. “It has nothing to do with it being the gaybourhood.”
 

Balser welcomes a protest and says she plans to dress up as her drag king alter ego, Frank N Beans, to entertain any protesters.