Re: Stripper visas created to protect staff

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Posted by Leslie on 08:07:59 2004/12/18

In Reply to: Re: Middle Eastern immigrants bribe immigration officer posted by Angelo

Thugs bullied HRDC: Stripper visas were created to protect federal staff from 'bad guys'

Robert Fife
CanWest News Service

Saturday, December 18, 2004

OTTAWA - Intimidation by organized crime and "bad guys" in the adult entertainment business led Human Resources Development Canada to establish a special fast-track entry program for foreign exotic dancers, according to a senior government official.

Bureaucrats at HRDC and Citizen and Immigration have known for years that many foreign dancers, mainly from Romania and Eastern Europe, were being trafficked by criminal syndicates and forced into prostitution at strip clubs in Canada.

Despite evidence from police and reputable organizations that the women were compelled into prostitution, HRDC officials would not shut down the labour-market program that exempted strip club owners from having to prove a scarcity of native-born dancers.

The insider, speaking on background, said Human Resources Minister Joe Volpe had to battle senior officials in his own department, who objected to ending the program as they were terrified organized crime would retaliate against front-line HRDC staff.

"There was a lot of concern because they are afraid of these guys. They are afraid of the guys that bring in the strippers because they are not nice guys," said the high-level official who played a role in Mr. Volpe's decision to cancel the stripper exemption on Dec. 15.

The insider said Mr. Volpe was taken aback when he discovered last February there was a special exemption category for strippers as well as software designers. No one could explain why exotic dancers filled a legitimate labour market need, but Mr. Volpe and his top aides were told organized crime had intimidated HRDC officials to set up the special program in 1998.

"Nobody seems to know how it got approved. Nobody seems to know the origin of the thing. When [we] pressed them on it the answer was, well, they didn't want their local people having to deal with the club bookers or the owners or whomever they were having to deal with,'' said the official.

"The best answer [we] got is that they wanted to get their people out of dealing with these characters, these guys. I'm not saying all club owners are bad guys ... but some of them are organized crime."

By giving a blanket exemption to foreign strippers, department officials did not have to deal with strip club owners or their representatives on a case-by-case basis, said the official said.

This meant the Immigration Department had little choice but to grant temporary work permits to exotic dancers since HRDC had designated the strip club industry as facing a labour shortage.

Asked why the government did not inform the RCMP that organized crime was intimidating HRDC employees, the official said the threats would have been difficult to prove:

"A guy walks into your office and says, 'Look, you know I'd like you to facilitate this and if you don't you are going to start having problems with your car' or whatever.' Are you going to call the cops? What are you going to do? The cops are going to come and say, 'Do you have any witnesses?' and they'll say 'Well, if he does anything let us know and we'll come back.' "

In an earlier interview, Mr. Volpe said he ended the stripper program because "there were too many unanswered questions" and he "didn't know the specific origin of many of the people who were making applications" on behalf of foreign exotic dancers.

"We are doing market analysis for legitimate businesses," he said. "This is not the kind of business that most Canadians want their sons and daughters to get involved in and neither do we."

Most of the foreign exotic dancers are young women from Romania who work mainly at strip clubs in Toronto, where there appears to be a greater shortage of nude dancers. Of 661 temporary work visas granted to strippers last year, more than 80% or 552 were Romanian.

An April, 2004, study by American University on the sex-trafficking industry and a 2003 report from the International Organization of Migration found Romanian women between ages 15 to 25 are prime targets for criminal syndicates operating in Europe and North America.

"An overwhelming majority of those who become victims of trafficking are young girls seeking a job in a western country," according to the 2003 study on the trafficking of young Romanian women.

"The girls are promised a job in a foreign country, but they end up instead in a trafficking situation and exploited for sexual purposes."

They often have their passports and temporary work visas confiscated by organized crime recruiters and are forced to perform in strip clubs where customers pay between $40 and $80 for various sex acts.

In 2000, the RCMP, Toronto police and immigration authorities raided more than a dozen clubs in Toronto where the owners were charged with running brothels. Most of the women were from Eastern Europe and many of their entrance visas were fraudulently obtained.

"Most of the contracts submitted by dancers and agents are bogus, they claim to pay the girls, but no money has changed hands. The girls are paid by patrons to the bars and prostitution is being done in small VIP rooms," Immigration enforcement Office Dorothy Christie wrote in one memo obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The stripper program came to light after it was revealed that Immigration Minister Judy Sgro fast-tracked a Romanian stripper who had worked on her re-election campaign.

© National Post 2004

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