Feds were too timid in Strippergate affair
The Martin government should act quickly to ensure, and reassure Canadians, that our country's human resources, immigration and foreign policies are not being set and administered with the interests of organized crime in mind.
That the federal government should find itself in the position of having to do that is astonishing. Even more shocking are the allegations a fast-track immigration program for strippers was left in place because field officers were afraid of how organized crime would react if the program were shut down.
This program came to light after Immigration Minister Judy Sgro fast-tracked a Romanian stripper who had worked on her re-election campaign. In the weeks following this revelation, information came tumbling out, some of it dating back to 1998, about concerns foreign strippers would be forced into prostitution at clubs run by organized crime.
On April 28, 1998, Pierre Pettigrew, then human resources minister, approved a special exemption for foreign strippers, despite warnings from the immigration department the women would be forced into prostitution. Officials at Citizenship and Immigration, as well as other departments, warned the blanket exemption was leading to sexual slavery of foreign strippers in Canada.
A memo from April 8, 1998, obtained by CanWest News Service, said, "Reports have emphasized that this profession (stripping) is very closely linked with organized crime [as it is in Europe] and that the primary concern is what faces these women in Canada."
A year later, on May 31, 2003, Daniel Jean, assistant deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration, expressed his concern about the involvement of organized crime in the trafficking of foreign strippers.
He wrote to Human Resources: "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."
On June 9, 2004, Jean wrote another letter to Human Resources: " ... many vulnerable women are being misled, exploited and trafficked to support illegal sex-trade activities in Canada."
You can't get much clearer than that. The blanket exemption should never have been granted in the first place. Pettigrew, who has a history of simply sliding away from difficulties, has yet to tell the Canadian public why he approved it. That's not good enough. Pettigrew, currently foreign affairs minister, should accept responsibility for his actions.
It took Human Resources Minister Joe Volpe to cancel the special exemption on Dec. 16. He is reported to have had to fight with his own officials, who fear the department's field officers could face retaliation from organized crime. Protecting officials is a valid concern, but capitulating to threats is a disgrace which cannot be excused.
Prime Minister Paul Martin is going to have to explain why Pettigrew and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro still are cabinet ministers.
Their judgment has been found to be seriously wanting.