1950 - 2022
On Thursday, June 23, 2022, the underdogs and oppressed of the world lost a great friend, Professor Emeritus John Lowman, after a several year battle with cancer.
John was born July 14, 1950 in Dorking, Surrey, England and completed a Bachelor's degree in Geography at the University of Sheffield before coming to Canada to complete a Master's degree at York University, where he met Laura Fraser, who would become his life-long partner. The two of them moved to Vancouver, where John completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia before being hired as an Assistant Professor by the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in 1983. Always willing to challenge his students and always quick with a pithy quote, John's undergraduate classes regarding sex work and his graduate classes in Law and Social Control were legendary in the way he was always challenging students to question authority - including his - and to think for themselves.
His lifelong commitment to social justice and willingness to support the underdog saw John doing research regarding prostitution after Vancouver's Penthouse Cabaret liquor license was revoked after the club owners and employees were charged with procuring, which resulted in the women soliciting there being forced out onto Seymour Street where their bold appearance quickly generated moralist and NIMBY backlash. It was the beginning of a chess match between sex workers and the legal system, which John observed by creating maps over time that showed how injunctions and legal challenges were gradually displacing sex workers from Seymour Street to the West End, and then further and further into the more industrial portion of the downtown east side. In these poorly lit and largely uninhabited areas, they became targets for predators. As women began to disappear, John and former grad student and (at that time) VPD Inspector Kim Rossmo were among the first to argue that there must be a serial killer on the loose ... as we later would learn was indeed the case.
John served for years on the Board of PACE (Prostitution Alternatives Counselling Education), was always willing to speak with the media about issues surrounding sex work, undertook evaluations of changes in laws regarding prostitution for the Department of Justice, testified to Parliamentary committees who were looking into changing the laws surrounding prostitution, and was an expert witness in the Bedford case in which the Supreme Court struck down Canada's prostitution laws on the grounds that the law itself was creating conditions that adversely affected sex workers' rights to safety and security of the person.
Another strand of work began when an SFU graduate student doing research on assisted suicide was subpoenaed by the Regional Coroner and asked to disclose the identities of those who had participated in his research despite his promise of confidentiality. John's willingness to go to bat for the student after the university denied the student's request for legal assistance - a decision that Provincial Court Judge Daniel Steinberg would later characterize as "hollow and timid" -- led to a lengthy battle with the university administration over research confidentiality that spilled onto the national stage. That work played a huge role in developing the local and national policies that helped ensure we still protect research participant confidentiality today. His expert testimony in a murder trial where the prosecution sought to obtain a research interview the accused had done years before helped secure the first recognition by a trial court in Canada of a legal privilege to protect research participants and allow researchers to gather information about society's most sensitive and controversial issues and thereby help generate better law and policy.
All of John's work reflected his embrace of the role of "public academic," i.e., a commitment to the idea that professors have obligations not only to do research, but also to ensure the results of that research are shared with and returned to the broader community. John retired from SFU in 2015 and was awarded the honorific title of Professor Emeritus in recognition of his many career achievements.
Like many Brits, John was an avid birder, and it was at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver - operated by the Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia -- that John took an interest in wildlife photography. His interest in photographing birds soon broadened into other species, particularly bears. In 2015 he and Laura moved permanently to Campbell River, BC, where he focused his photography on the marine mammals and birds of the Salish Sea. A recipient of numerous awards for his photography, he recently signed a contract to have a book of his pictures published along with a narrative about the ecological recovery of the Salish Sea. The book will be published posthumously by Rocky Mountain Books in spring, 2023.
Beyond his productive and rewarding career, John also always had time for his relationships with partner Laura Fraser and friends, the latter of whom were often guests at their post-retirement home. Despite his health struggles, John loved his life in Campbell River - going out on his boat with Laura or other friends, being on the water, enjoying the environment, spending time with neighbours, contributing to local knowledge about whale populations and migration, and of course cheering on his favourite Tottenham Spurs. He is survived by his long time partner, Laura Fraser, brother Mike (in England), feline friend Willow, and many former colleagues, students and friends, all of whom will miss him terribly.
Published July 15, 2022 in the Vancouver Sun