The proposed amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, if passed, would allow immigration officials to reject foreign workers who may be perceived as “at risk of being humiliated, degraded or sexually exploited.”
“What we're trying to do here is protect vulnerable foreign workers, ones that could easily be exposed to sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse,” Immigration Minister Diane Finley said as she addressed the Canadian House of Commons in May.
“The previous Liberal government gave blanket exemptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada. This was despite warnings that they were vulnerable to forced prostitution and other exploitation,” Finely said.
AEAC Executive Director Tim Lambrinos called the meeting on Aug. 8 to give adult industry members an opportunity to speak out on the issue.
“What we're going to do tonight is hear from women in the Ottawa region and see what they think,” Lambrinos said. “We'll see if their job is as humiliating and degrading as Minister Diane Finley says.”
The controversy over foreign adult talent is partly due to Conservative Party (colloquially known as the “Tories”) sentiment against former Liberal Party immigration policies.
Finley has made references to former Liberal immigration minister Judy Sgro and her involvement in a 2004 incident in which Conservative Party members claimed Sgro had given a special immigration permit to a campaign supporter, Alina Balaican, a Romanian who had initially been admitted to the country to work as an exotic dancer. The incident was dubbed “Strippergate” in the media.
In 2004, when Liberal Paul Martin was Canadian Prime Minister, there were 423 visas issued for foreign exotic dancers.
Since Conservative Stephen Harper took over in early 2006, a total of 17 permits have been issued — with seven issued so far, in 2007.
Lambrinos argues that club owners would be better served by a system of self-regulation through organizations like his. Members of the AEAC conduct onsite facility checks, background checks of sponsors and awareness campaigns for workers, to ensure fair treatment. There also is a toll-free number for anonymous complaints.
“All the bill is going to do is drive the demand to perhaps illegal enterprises and actually make it worse for the women potentially here,” Lambrinos said.
Annie Temple of NakedTruth.ca, a resource website for Canadian exotic performers, said that instead of seeking reforms by prohibiting foreign adult workers from entering the country, the government should investigate complaints against club owners and operators.
“Keeping foreign exotic dancers out of Canada will not address the issue of exploitation,” Temple said.
“If the Conservative government is truly concerned about exploitation of exotic dancers, then they should focus on ensuring health and safety standards [that] exist in strip clubs. Club owners and agents who are sponsoring foreign dancers should be investigated for exploitative practices,” she said.
If the Canadian Parliament adopts C-57, club owners say they will challenge the bill in court, on the grounds of discrimination against legal businesses.