Monday, May 21, 2007

Opposition raps Tories over proposed crackdown on strippers

Globe and Mail

May 17, 2007

OTTAWA -- The Conservative government has introduced legislation to crack down on foreign strippers entering the country as temporary workers, even though figures show the practice has almost stopped.

The move yesterday drew swift rebukes from opposition parties and sex workers' advocates, who accused the Conservatives of pandering to their morally traditional voter base by making much fanfare about a relatively redundant bill.

The proposed legislation gives immigration officers at foreign missions the discretionary power to refuse temporary workers deemed at risk of exploitation.

But documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show the previous Liberal government had already issued directives to embassies to make it harder for foreign strippers to obtain temporary work permits. As a result, the number of new permits issued to foreign exotic dancers fell to fewer than 10 in 2005 from 67 in 2004, according to government statistics.

Still, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley portrayed her government as a defender of exploited women and vowed her bill will further limit the number of foreign strippers allowed in the country.

"What we're trying to do here is protect vulnerable foreign workers, ones that could easily be exposed to sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse," Ms. Finley said yesterday.

Since the 1990s, immigration authorities granted work permits to more than 600 foreign strippers, mostly from Eastern Europe, to help fill labour shortages at Canadian strip bars.

The new bill provided the Tories with an occasion to drag back on the public radar the so-called Liberal strippergate scandal.

In 2004, then-immigration-minister Judy Sgro cancelled a blanket authorization for work permits to strippers after it was revealed that her office granted a visa extension to a Romanian stripper who had worked on her election campaign.

But foreign exotic dancers kept trickling into Canada under more stringent conditions. New directives sent to all foreign missions in 2005 by Human Resources and Social Development Canada instructed applicants to present a valid work contract and required officials to verify that the employer was legitimate.

A spokeswoman for Stella, a Montreal organization that caters to sex workers, said her group has received no complaints from foreign strippers. "This Conservative government has been looking to reduce what they see as an immoral industry," Jenn Clamen said.

Opposition critics also took aim at the proposed bill. "I think we have the safeguards in place," Liberal immigration critic Omar Alghabra said. "This is just an attempt to change the channel, to grab some headlines."