Stripper risks ignored
Ottawa knew foreign dancers would be forced into prostitution, documents show
Robert Fife
CanWest News Service

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

OTTAWA -- Human Resources Development Canada gave a blanket exemption to foreign exotic dancers to work in Canada, despite serious warnings from inside the government the young women would be forced into prostitution at strip clubs controlled by biker gangs, triads and other elements of organized crime, according to federal documents.

Although alarm bells were rung about the involvement of organized crime in the importation of exotic dancers, then-Human Resources minister Pierre Pettigrew approved the special exemption for foreign strippers on April 28, 1998 under a labour mobility program.

Pettigrew, now foreign affairs minister, and successive HRDC ministers ignored calls to cancel the program from officials in other departments who said it promoted the trafficking of "vulnerable women" for "illegal sex activities in Canada."

Memos obtained under access to information by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland reveal HRDC knew strippers, mainly from eastern Europe, would be forced into prostitution at clubs run by organized crime.

Officials at Citizenship and Immigration voiced strong objections to the blanket exemption.

"Having heard many stories from returning applicants of how they suffered abuse at the hands of their employers and were little more than indentured servants (often having passports confiscated and being unable to leave until their airfare was fully paid), we are extremely hesitant to send women into this profession," according to an April 8,1998 memo from Citizenship .

"Reports have emphasized that this profession is very closely linked with organized crime (as it is in Europe) and that the primary concern is what faces these women in Canada."

The memo also expressed frustration HRDC pushed ahead with the exemption even though it contradicted Canada's foreign policy against global trafficking in women.

Other internal documents obtained by show senior HRDC officials were repeatedly urged over the past six years to cancel the special exemption yet refused to do so.

Daniel Jean, assistant deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration, wrote to his HRDC counterpart, Phil Jensen, May 31, 2003 to register concern about the involvement of criminal syndicates in trafficking of foreign strippers.

"There is increased vulnerability of exploitation of the dancers stemming from a demand for increased level of contact with club patrons and an alleged involvement of organized crime in the industry," said Jean.

In a June 9, 2004 letter, Jean again complained about the increase in the trafficking of exotic dancers from eastern Europe as well as Asia into Canada for prostitution.

"In this movement, many vulnerable women are being misled, exploited and trafficked to support illegal sex trade activities in Canada," Jean wrote to Karen Jackson, assistant deputy minister of workplace skills at HRDC.

Human Resources Minister Joe Volpe finally cancelled the special exemption on Dec. 15, but he had to battle his own officials who feared HRDC field officers could face retaliation from organized crime.

 The Windsor Star 2004