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Saskatoon group faces backlash over scantily-clad dancers at fundraiser for children's charities

A service club in Saskatoon created controversy by holding a fundraising event for children’s charities that included women in G-strings dancing on raised walkways.

Rhonda Gustavson/Twitter

When Saskatoon businessmen gathered last week for their annual Boys' Lunch Out, a decades-old tradition to raise money for local children's charities, tables started at $945 and included drinks, food and a parade of women gyrating on a raised stage in bras and thongs.

"It's for the kids!" was the event slogan. A long-standing tradition by the Saskatoon Progress Club, the lunch at the city's civic centre raises tens of thousands of dollars for local charities – money that at least one organization, a local Catholic hospital, is giving back after footage of the event provoked outrage amid a growing public dialogue about the sexualization and treatment of women.

Mayor Charlie Clark described the event as being "out of step" with the times. "There's a disconnect there, with the work we need to do to build a truly safe society."

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In a statement on Wednesday, the Saskatoon Progress Club said the event has been "grossly misinterpreted" in the media, but adds it has "heard the concerns that people have shared."

"We will now take this important opportunity to consult with our valued partners to review all fundraising practices going forward. This is to ensure we continue our progress in creating inclusive and positive environments that will foster our partnerships for decades to come."

The Saskatoon Progress Club did not respond to interview requests. On its website, it lists close to 20 local organizations that it supports.

One cause that's no longer listed on the site is Saskatoon's St. Paul's Hospital Foundation. An earlier version of the list showed the urology department received $25,000 from the club.

Chris Boychuk, board chair for the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation, said in a statement on Tuesday that the event was "not in keeping" with Catholic values – and that as a result, the foundation will be giving the money back.

"We take this issue very seriously and we will be returning the gift from the Progress Club," Mr. Boychuk said. "We will also be looking to ensure that our gift acceptance process completely aligns with our policy which states that Gifts must not compromise the Foundation's integrity, nor be derived from any activity that runs counter to the mission and core values of the Foundation or Hospital."

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools division, which has also received funds from the Progress Club, says it is "trying to meet with members of the club to discuss [their] concerns" – although spokesperson Derrick Kunz did not say whether it would be returning any donations.

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon released a statement noting that Bishop Mark Hagemoen has expressed concerns to both school and hospital leaders, "stressing that all fundraising must be consistent with Catholic identity and vision about the dignity of the human person."

The Saskatoon Progress Club's website describes it as a "men's service club," made up of Saskatoon residents "who have a common interest in bettering our community by helping those in need. In particular we focus on children's needs."

Mr. Clark said the city will be reviewing its policies around what types of events are permitted at a civic conference centre, Saskatoon's TCU Place, where the lunch was held.

The local CBC outlet, which first posted a video of the event, reported that at least $90,000 was raised at the Dec. 1 lunch. A table ranged in price from $945 to $3,675 – a posting later removed from the organization's website said the top price offered attendees access to an open bar and a "way better view of models on both sides."

Tickets were also available for a VIP party, an after-party and "model photoshoot" party that included "one-on-one" time with the women.

The event was hosted by comedian Nicole Arbour. Her manager, Meaghan Hargrave, said they were told the event would be a "Victoria's Secret-like fashion show." She said it became clear as soon as they arrived that this was not the case. "It was not done tastefully," Ms. Hargrave said. Given the charity aspect, she said Ms. Arbour opted to stay and do the event, but will not be returning next year.

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The national umbrella organization, the Canadian Progress Club – which is open to both men and women – said in a statement that it "condemns sexism in no uncertain terms" and each club decides on its own how to raise funds.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke at the #Aftermetoo Symposium in Toronto, a two-day event addressing sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and workplaces. The Globe and Mail
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