A Saskatoon hospital foundation is returning a $25,000 donation from a local service club that hosted a fundraiser featuring women in G-strings gyrating on raised walkways.

The CEO of the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation, Bruce Acton, had initially dismissed criticisms of the downtown Saskatoon chapter of the Canadian Progress Club and its Boys Lunch Out event, saying the hospital has benefited greatly from the club's donations, including $25,000 to its urology department.

"We don't feel it's our job to police fundraising," Acton told CBC News.

The change in position was announced Tuesday in an emailed statement to CBC News from foundation board chair Chris Boychuk.

"Upon further investigation, we have determined the 'Boys Lunch Out' fundraising event is not in keeping with our Hospital's and Foundation's Catholic values, which emphasizes respect of the whole person," Boychuk wrote.

"We take this issue very seriously and we will be returning the gift from the Progress Club."

Boychuk also announced a review of the foundation's "gift acceptance process."

Concerns being raised about Boy's Lunch Out0:12

Reporter ejected

The Progress Club hosted its 36th annual Boys Lunch Out in a banquet room at the TCU Place event venue late on Friday morning and afternoon. A CBC News reporter was on the scene for about five minutes, and shot a short video, before being ejected.

In the video, a dozen women are seen clad in underwear gyrating to the sound of pop and rock music. 

Men watched the women, or their images on large video screens, while other women served drinks. A male MC made sexual jokes — with punch lines such as "That's what she said" — while his female counterpart implored the men to order more drinks.

All attendees who were approached for an interview declined.

CBC News has made numerous attempts to interview a Progress Club spokesperson without success. An official told CBC News in an email that the club is expected to issue a statement Wednesday.

Events were scheduled Thursday evening as well, according to the club's website, when fewer than 50 VIP donors were taken by bus to a secret location for a "model photoshoot party."

The site promised "one-on-one" time with some of the top models.

"We put a drink in your hand and drive you to the location. Free liquor and food will be steadily supplied by our handpicked waitresses," it said.

Bishop stresses 'Catholic identity'

The foundation's announcement came just hours after Saskatoon's new Roman Catholic bishop, Mark Hagemoen, reminded Catholic organizations of their obligation to make decisions based on Catholic values.

'It's definitely not in line with our values.' Carm Michalenko, Saskatoon Community Foundation

"Respect for the human person is a foundational guiding principal for Catholic institutions that provides insight and direction for all of our ministry activities, including the efforts to financially support such activities," Hagemoen said in the release.

"All fundraising must be consistent with Catholic identity and vision about the dignity of the human person." 

A Catholic elementary school is also listed on the club's website as its "sponsor school." 

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools spokesman Derrick Kunz said no decision has been made on whether to return the donation. The school board is attempting to set up a meeting with the Progress Club.

"We agree with Bishop Hagemoen's comments," Kunz said.

Previous controversy

One man who attended the Boys Lunch Out spoke with CBC News afterward.

"I didn't know it was going to be like that. I don't want to go to a charity event and see women objectified and sexualized," said Russell Storring, noting he has a young daughter.

'It was just about getting guys drunk.' — Attendee Russell Storring

"It was just about getting guys drunk. It's just a replacement for strip clubs."

A basic table at the lunch cost just under $1,000, while a VIP table went for $3,675. Perks included better views of the models and up to 45 free drink tickets per table.

The event seems to have been profitable. Storring said that by the time he left, it had raised $90,000 through tickets, 50/50 draws and auctions for a chance to drive a race car, attend the NHL All Star game, and trips to Las Vegas. 

The club drew fire for the same event in 2015 over a racy online promotional image. 

Children's needs

The Progress Club's website lists 20 charities it supports through this event and others. It says its mission is "helping those in need." 

"In particular we focus on children's needs," the site says. 

Some other charities that received donations were shocked to hear how the funds were raised.

"I wasn't aware of this. It's definitely not in line with our values," said Carm Michalenko, executive director of the Saskatoon Community Foundation.

The foundation is one of the largest recipients on the site's list of supported charities, with more than $50,000. Michalenko said she had no idea this was happening, and pledged to investigate further. 

Michalenko said she's been an advocate for women in business for many years.

"I'm surprised this is still happening. I thought we'd turned a corner in society," she said.

Rescue some, objectify others? 

University of Saskatchewan professor Marie Lovrod described the event as a "contradiction" and "hypocrisy." 

"We rescue some people by objectifying others," said Lovrod, head of the university's women and gender studies program.

"You wouldn't hand a big cheque to a charity while watching women gyrating on a stage, right? Those are two different performances."

Lovrod said the power dynamics are also troubling. Attendees treat women as attractions, but also hold tremendous power over the charities, she said. 

"That's why some may not comment or just call it a fashion show. It's difficult for groups depending on that money to say anything," she said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Cary Bowman is the chapter president of the Progress Club. He is the past president.
    Dec 05, 2017 8:24 PM CT