SOUTH SURREY – When 19-year-old Surrey resident Ashley Brooks found out she won the 2013 Ms. Vancouver beauty pageant, she thought it was the beginning of a new and wonderful life.
Little did she know it would start her on a long and difficult road down the darkest period of her young life, to a point where her physical well-being was in serious danger.
Ashley learned about the beauty pageant on Craigslist in April 2013. Using her experiences of being bullied as a middle school student in Winnipeg, she championed an antibullying message to take the crown. The winner was to receive $5,000 in Apple prizes, one year with a personal trainer and an exotic trip to Jamaica.
But shortly after winning last November, she said she was told by Harmon Bal, owner of Vancouver Television Broadcasting Corporation, that she would need to serve for a full "reign" as Ms. Vancouver and fulfill all her pageant obligations before she received anything.
After the pageant, Ashley claims she was told by Bal that Vancouver TV had just been bought by a multimillion company called Soft Box Film and Television of Beverly Hills. She said she was promised great things would follow.
But her mother Lin Brooks said after doing some digging and using Google Earth she saw a "space for rent" sign on the building where the company is supposed to be located in California. She called the number to learn that no company exists at that address under that or any other name.
A statement made by Vancouver TV on Facebook accuses Ashley of refusing to accept her prizes, showing up late or not at all to bookings, making demands of sponsors, and even accused her of having a history of bullying other people. The last allegation floored Ashley.
“I don’t really know why they decided to come up with the ‘I am a bully’ story. I would love to know why. I really would,” she said.
Ashley admitted she was late for a few scheduled appearances but added she was told before the pageant that the winner would receive a limousine ride to events. But, after winning, she claims she was told by Bal that the limo use was only for Vancouver residents, despite knowing she lives in South Surrey.
Ashley said the stress from the past year took a serious toll on her health. She was depressed for three months after being told she was no longer Ms. Vancouver and would never see any of the promised prizes, to the point where she wouldn’t leave her room.
“Every morning I would wake up and look at my phone and I’d have an anxiety attack thinking that Harmon was going to text me… I went kind of into a fog and I stopped taking care of myself.”
Her weight dropped to 94 pounds and she couldn’t keep food down. Doctors told Lin they might need to put her on an IV drip if her health didn’t improve.
Although she’s getting better these days, a Global BC story thrust her back into the spotlight and now she’s afraid to go out of the house.
“I’m still kind of scared to go out. Like, I wouldn’t go downtown this weekend because I thought people were going to be mean to me.”
After the story aired on Global she was contacted on Facebook by strangers who made disparaging remarks about her.
After winning a pageant on a message of anti-bullying, the teen said she’s now living a nightmare of cyberbullying.
“The bullying kind of continues and it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better. All I ever wanted was to move forward and get this bullying to stop and stop feeling this way.”
Bal said he posted a seven-page explanation about Ashley on their Vancouver TV Facebook page which includes smartphone screenshots that he says prove the Brooks aren’t telling the truth.
“What they tried to do was just avoid getting any of the prizes from us, which you’ll see are clearly ignored or just turned away when we attempted to give them to Ashley. So her mom would just refuse.”
Bal confirmed that a civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court against Lin and Ashley Brooks on Nov. 26, but that it was mainly in response to public defamation of the pageant.
“It’s not her word against my word. It’s the truth against false accusations.”
Bal said there are people who have completed the pageant without winning who are happy with how it went and those comments are visible on their Facebook page.