Pacific Western Brewery has dodged a boycott after its association with a known criminal and has apologized for a corporate blog statement demeaning sex trade workers.
The controversy began over a film called Treeplanterland, which was made as a 2012 graduation project by Ryerson University film student Alex Ternowetsky, a former Prince George resident.
Due to PWB's pledge to use income on their Cariboo beer line to fund treeplanting initiatives, Ternowetsky approached them several times for support, according to PWB officials.
"We turned him down a number of times, but we did eventually agree to provide some prizes for an event he was holding to launch the film," said company executive Paul Mulgrew.
What Mulgrew did not know was Ternowetsky and his friend Steven Kummerfield, both 20 at the time, had been convicted of killing Pamela George in 1995 in Regina by beating her to death. They both defended their actions by claiming to be drunk.
They received less than seven years in prison (federal prisoners serve only two-thirds of their sentence in jail) as a sentence and the trial judge instructed the jury to consider that the victim was "indeed a prostitute" as an excuse factor in the case. Since the victim was aboriginal and impoverished while the two accused were white and from a background of relative privilege, the trial received national media attention at the time.
Many people, especially social advocates and friends of George and her surviving family, still rage over the case and follow the lives of those involved.
One of these people, Bridget Keating, was part of the movement to boycott PWB when the beer company's link to the movie was discovered. Keating was a Regina university student in 1996, knew the George family, and is now an instructor at the First Nations University of Canada. Her academic focus is sexualized racism.
She told The Citizen that she and her supporters did not attempt to boycott any agency, company or individual involved in the making of the film, only PWB because of their raw feelings over the "too drunk to be responsible" defence that Ternowetsky and Kummerfield used in court.
"We never formed a business relationship," said Mulgrew, who added Ternowetsky had been attempting to curry PWB favour since 2010 to no avail.
Mulgrew said it is impossible to do background checks on everyone a company does business with, let alone the ones that only get a donation of prizes for an event the company had no involvement with.
To make matters worse for PWB last week, the official company blog for the Cariboo line of beers said something that further shocked and enraged George supporters.
The blog said, in part: "Happy New Years! We hope everyone got a nice buzz on to bring in the new year and didn't accidentally kill any hookers (this time)."
Keating and her associates were livid. Mulgrew, on holidays at the time, as were the two blog editors who normally review anything posted on the site. Mulgrew has since had the offending line stricken from the website, posted an apology and added "We have taken away the publishing powers of those in question as well."
All of that was good enough for the boycott PWB movement.
"He has taken this very seriously, his apology was sincere, he is embarrassed, I think the company is embarrassed, we feel comfortable in [PWB's] response to the blog and any association with Alex Ternowetsky," Keating said.
The writer of the blog was an American-based multimedia artist named Aba Dawn who issued his own apology to the boycott group.
"I am the writer that wrote the post, and published it without [PWB's] consent or giving them a chance to edit it, in order to get it up by the new year...[It was] a young and dumb writers mistake," he said.
However, he said the piece was a comedy bit "so I'm not sure why it would be read with such sensitivity."
Keating was adamant that satire is recognizable as such and this piece had no such self-evident hallmarks.
Mulgrew explained that Dawn was completely unaware of George or any part of the Treeplanterland issue and actually the "hooker" reference was an attempt by Dawn to lampoon the hit video game series Grand Theft Auto, which has faced criticism for allowing players to kill hookers.
Mulgrew stressed that, with one of the province's most powerful business women at the helm of PWB, he would never personally sanction anything that contained anti-female sentiments. Mulgrew also said he has a loved one who has had a severe drug addiction has lived on the streets. He would be personally offended, on behalf of his friend, at any minimizing of the socially vulnerable, he added.
Meanwhile, Ternowetsky is facing new police charges. He is accused of assaulting a police officer, willfully resisting arrest or obstructing a peace officer, and escape from lawful custody all stemming from a Nov. 30, 2013 incident in the Victoria area. His next court appearance on these new allegations is Jan. 16.