People and Places

International Women’s Day: The Cornerstone to solving poverty — helping women at risk of homelessness

In contemplating International Women’s Day, we might ask ourselves: Is it a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women? Or is it a day to remind ourselves about the needs and challenges that still face women around the globe, and right here at home?

Of course it’s both — a celebration and a call to action.

When it comes to homeless women in Ottawa, there are about 1,000 living on the streets. They are invisible. They hide out of sight, just to keep safe.

The solution to poverty begins with safe housing, and that is why I am honoured to be on the Board of the Cornerstone Housing for Women Foundation, an organization in Ottawa that was able to help 484 women at risk of homelessness last year.

Cornerstone provides affordable housing, emergency shelter, basic needs, housing search, transitional programs and support services. Its Women’s Shelter provides emergency, short term accommodation for 61 women per day and is located at 170 O’Connor St. Permanent affordable housing is also offered at 314 Booth Street (42 apartments), 515 Maclaren Street (20 units), and McPhail House (6 units).

This Friday, March 11 from 1 to 3 pm, The Well, a day program for women and women with children located at 154 Elgin Street, will host an event to celebrate women and connect communities. It will feature drumming by Aboriginal leaders, testimonials, an art exhibit and great food.

“On behalf of the coalition of women’s services who are participating in the planning of this event, we are thrilled that International Women’s Week is shaping up to be a time of celebration and community,” says Sue Garvey, Executive Director of Cornerstone Housing for Women.

The network  participating in this event includes Cornerstone Housing for Women, Shepherds of Good Hope, Minwaashin Lodge, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, Tewegan Housing for Aboriginal Youth and the Well. Royal LePage Realty, Third World Bazaar, Mckeen Metro Glebe, and Thyme & Again are sponsoring the event.

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

(Above photo: Cornerstone residents who, last summer, went on an overnight adventure to Waupoos Family Farm, which offers vacations for families in need.)

Also Tonight! The 2016 Femmy Awards…

Help ring in the feminist New Year at Library and Archives Canada, tonight, where local women will be honoured at the Femmy Awards. The event will also feature an activist fair, powerful arts performances, food and drink, and a dance party. Admission if free and on-site childcare will be offered. Doors open at 6 p.m. More info, visit here.


People and Places

Fifty Shades of Grey comes to Ottawa — New fantasy sex club caters to kink

Masquerade Mayhem, according to the ad on Club Debauchery’s website, promised to be a masked evening of fire, freaks, and fetish — for members only. The ad also came with a warning: Not for the faint of heart!

Would that turn out to be marketing hype? I was about to find out.

Club Debauchery is a new establishment specializing in BDSM (for the unitiated, that’s bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism). Located in Vanier, its strip-mall neighbours include a variety of other licensed adult businesses.

I was greeted at the door by a striking-looking young woman who goes by the name Muse. She is the manager of Club Debauchery and, later that night, would also stage an unforgettable performance.

First up was a solo bondage act. A guy managed to tie himself up and suspend himself upside down from a metal frame. He described the activity as Shibari, Japanese erotic bondage. His business card says he not only performs but gives bondage lessons.

Next, a demonstration of fire play that saw a young woman lie face down on a massage table as a man lit cotton balls soaked in alcohol and caressed her naked body with flames.

Muse lounging in Club Debauchery's Marquis Boudoir room. She is the manager of Club Debauchery and was the star of the Masquerade Mayhem event. Photo: Jamie Kronick
Muse lounging in Club Debauchery’s Marquis Boudoir room. She is the manager of Club Debauchery and was the star of the Masquerade Mayhem event. Photo: Jamie Kronick

The highlight of the evening came at 10 o’clock. Muse and her partner, Nick, put on a show that was live-streamed to an adult website. The performance included hot wax, a rubber cat-o’-nine-tails whip, clothespins, and plenty of intimate probing.

I watched the performance while standing beside two women dressed in black leather. They cheerfully answered my questions about BDSM and consent. One of the women, Cynthia, assured me that “There is more consent here than anywhere else. It’s a huge responsibility. You have to have trust.”

She added that BDSM gives her an intense experience that regular sex cannot match. “There is no going back,” she said with conviction.

Mike, a tall, powerfully built gay man who was standing nearby, chimed in that BDSM could be like “a spiritual experience.”

The other woman in our small viewing group — Renee, a dominatrix — seemed amused by my naiveté. I learned that in this community, I’m known as a Vanilla person or a Muggle, the name given to people in the Harry Potter stories with no magical ability.

I’ll leave the climax to your imagination, but it was visibly obvious that Muse reached a shuddering peak of sexual release. Their performance ended with a lot of tender kissing and loving looks. When I spoke to them after the show, they made it clear to me that they love each other.

Club Debauchery, an outgrowth of a successful sex shop on Bank Street called Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium, is open to everyone from nervous newcomers to fans of hard-core bondage. Both the club and the store are owned by Wanda Cotie, a 50-year-old businesswoman who works from dawn to midnight in a variety of roles including real estate broker, property and asset manager, and sex business entrepreneur. The space includes a dungeon complete with stocks, a whipping post, and cages. A medical room is set up for doctor-nurse-patient role-playing. The largest room is a traditional boudoir, which is used for everything from photo shoots to parties to support-group meetings.

Cotie decided to open Club Debauchery as both an outlet for kink-friendly people and an online-video marketing tool to boost Wicked Wanda’s and eventually franchise the store concept. In doing so, the club has become the first rental space in Ottawa where, she says, “you can just go and play in fantasy-themed rooms.”

But who would want to “go and play”?

Turns out, there is growing interest in BDSM thanks, in part, to the bestselling book Fifty Shades of Grey and the successful film adaptation. Cotie points out that over 24,000 people in the Ottawa area are users on a website called Fetlife. “They have registered themselves as kink-friendly. In the statistics, there are one in 10 people who have a kink. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s extreme, but one in ten people admittedly have something that kinda tweaks them.”

The club’s etiquette includes the following rules: All play at the club is safe, sane, and consensual. Non-consensual touching or harassment will not be permitted. (In fact, it’s not unusual for couples to sign legal agreements specifying the scope and limits of their relationship and activities.) Towels, plastic sheets, vinyl gloves, lubes, and condoms are provided. Participants must clean up after their sex play and will be charged a fee if they leave a mess.

I sat down with Cotie at a Royal Oak across from her Bank Street store.

Wanda Cotie, owner of Club Debauchery and Wicked Wanda's Adult Emporium. Photo: Jamie Kronick
Wanda Cotie, owner of Club Debauchery and Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium. Photo: Jamie Kronick

How would you describe Club Debauchery?

It’s a different platform consisting of art, events, workshops with educational discussions about BDSM, kink, and all the way down to just basic seminars on how to perform oral sex. And then once or twice a month, we will invite our members to come and play.

What kind of play?

Have fun, live a fantasy, rent a theme room. You’ve never had a dungeon? You want to have a Fifty Shades of Grey party with your partner? Rent the room.

You obviously think this kind of club will succeed in Ottawa. Why?

We are at a place where people are … open. They are bored. I’ve run swingers groups. I see a problem with swingers groups, personally. I see a lot of people that break up over that. They don’t feel very comfortable sharing a partner. It’s not really what they need to shake up their relationship. Maybe they just need to step into a fantasy for a little while?

Do you anticipate people will come to the club to meet other like-minded people?

Yes, sometimes. Some people don’t want to have anybody touch them, they want to have their own space, their own little bubble, and just enjoy the energy in the space. Anything like that goes — it’s just a matter of no means no. You must ask permission to talk to somebody or to touch them.

Did you get legal advice before opening Club Debauchery?

I have spoken to lawyers, and we are not doing anything that can be called prostitution. If you want to rent a dungeon — as long as you are a private member and you sign the forms that indicate that there is not a liability for us when you go into that door — it’s like renting a hotel room.