Even Stripper Industry Insiders Charging Canadian Government With Trafficking in Women

Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition gets "more complaints about Canada than any other western country"
Tue May 31, 2005 - 12:15 pm EST

VANCOUVER, May 31, 2005 ( - On the eve of the US release of its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, wherein Canada is sure to get a mention, the Liberal government has come under renewed fire for illicit sex trafficking. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will release the fifth annual Department of State TIP report on Wednesday. The 150-country report is the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons, or modern-day slavery.

While disgraced Liberal MP Judy Sgro may feel vindicated by recent statements from ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro, the Canadian stripper visa scandal which ballooned under her watch continues to outrage human rights groups, and even strip club insiders.As anti-trafficking groups the world over denounced Canada for offering special visas for ‘exotic dancers, the government defended doing so. Then Immigration Minster Sgro responded to criticisms in the House of Commons last year saying that the strip club industry has “a right to have their labour market needs approved.”

Sgro stepped down over controversies over conflict of interest accusations related to a Romanian stripper who obtained an extended work permit while working on then Immigration Minister Sgro’s election campaign. There were further allegations by a now-deported pizza shop owner. Sgro said a few weeks ago she felt vindicated since the pizza shop owner retracted his allegations and on the Romanian stripper incident Shapiro wrote, “while you were not aware of the volunteer status of Ms. Balaican, members of your staff did know of this.” Shapiro added, however, “Thus, your staff for whom you bear responsibility did, in fact, place you in a conflict of interest.”

However human rights groups are concerned that the kafuffle over Sgro has clouded the real scandal of the Canadian government’s involvement in human trafficking via its ‘exotic dancer program’ which grants special visa work permits for foreign women to be employed in strip clubs in Canada. Such programs, say anti-trafficking groups, are a recipe for human trafficking since they lead women into forced prostitution after they arrive in foreign countries.

The concerns of the anti-trafficking groups are now backed by industry insiders. Former stripper and currently international strip club agent Janet Godkin told that there is no shortage of women in the industry to necessitate such foreign work permit programs. Godkin, who runs Vancouver-based The Best Dancers Inc., said, “There is no proof of scarcity, Canadian dancers are simply reluctant to work in a negative job market and be employed as nothing more than sex slaves.”

Despite the promises made by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan in the House of Commons last December indicating that the Canadian exotic dancer program was cancelled, anti-trafficking groups suggest such recruiting activities continue in foreign countries. Indeed, Godkin tells that the program, “is in fact still in effect and being used to trick Romanian girls into coming to Canada to so-called dance, which in turn, lines the pockets of unscrupulous foreign recruiters so that they can earn a healthy living off the avails of the girl’s prostitution.”

On closer inspection, while the exotic dancer program has been shelved on paper, current HRSDC regulations still allow the practice. “Employers who wish to hire temporary foreign exotic dancers will be required to seek an individual labour market opinion from HRSDC,” say current guidelines.

Rumours of Liberal government ties to organized crime stemming from the Gomery inquiry are considerably reinforced by charges levelled against the government by anti-trafficking groups. Speaking to last summer, when the exotic dancer visa scheme first came to light, Gregory Carlin of the Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition told, “We get more complaints about Canada than any other western country. Of course, it is not every country which climbs into bed with organized crime as a human resource partner.”

Godkin has called for a public inquiry into the matter. “The Liberals and HRSDC are not doing enough to protect the exotic dancers in Canada, they are however fuelling the slave trade. The industry deserves a public inquiry into strip club conditions and human rights abuses,” she said.

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