No free hugs, church group hears

Mall decisions speak to bigger issue: minister

What started as an innocent public display of affection has turned into a controversy for the Cordova Bay United Church.

Last month, youth minister Beth Walker saw her event stifled by security at Mayfair Shopping Centre.

Walker and a group of 12- to 17-year-olds from the church were asked to stop displaying signs offering “Free Hugs.” Walker said the Christmas crackdown left her feeling “scrooged.”

On Jan. 21 – National Hug Day – her second attempt to stage the event was also squelched. Three other shopping malls have denied Walker’s requests, sparking debate within her church over whether youth can safely invite hugging.

“I’m not quite sure what to make of it,” she said. “All of a sudden, something that’s quite innocent has become something else.”

Hillside Shopping Centre, the Bay Centre and Broadmead Thrifty Foods wouldn’t comment on why Walker’s request was turned down.

The issue prompts Walker to question what a fear of hugging says about our society.

“For me, it’s a bigger conversation about what we’re doing to intimacy,” she said, pointing to the culture of text messaging and social networking.

“They’re inviting hugs and being supervised… What is sexual and what isn’t?”

Danu Stinson, a University of Victoria psychology professor who specializes in self esteem and relationship behaviour, speaks to the importance of touch in human development – a proven necessity for babies, and ongoing desire for adults.

“Our brainwaves, our blood pressure, our respiratory rate, everything just calms right down when we’re in close contact with a loved one, but these are not loved ones,” Stinson said.

By maintaining zones of interpersonal distances, we’re able to regulate relationships with the people around us, she said. Inviting strangers in for a hug is welcoming them into the zero-to-46-centimetre “intimate distance.” Calming physiological effects of a stranger’s hug are possible, but unlikely, Stinson said.

“I actually suspect for most people, letting a stranger into their intimate distance actually makes them uncomfortable and would have the opposite effect that it’s supposed to have through this process.”

As far as safety, the concern is not so much with hugging as it is with the chance a child could be touched inappropriately by an adult.

Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen weighed in on the issue, saying no offenses are directly linked to offering hugs. Each situation would need to be put into context on a case-by-case basis if an offence occurred after the invitation to hug.

As the effects of our physical boundaries and the benefits of hugs are nearly impossible to quantify, it may be a while before the true value of a free hug can be measured, Stinson said.

“Social isolation, which would involve a lack of touch, is extremely detrimental to someone’s health, both mental and physical,” she said. “Being isolated from other people can cause us to shrivel up and die, basically.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The Victoria woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Anita Troop officially turns 100 on Sunday and cards are pouring in from around the world. (Courtesy Marina Miller)
Cards roll in from around the world for West Shore 100 year old

About 100 cards have come for the woman who turns 100 on Sunday

A cardboard man bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s royal cipher has been placed in a window at the Royal Theatre for at least several days. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)
Mysterious cardboard figure appears in Victoria’s Royal Theatre window

The identity of the figure, which was moved there amid cleaning, remains unknown

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in Saanich parkland

The birds don’t often touch down in the south of the Island

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Most Read