Embassy, August 15th, 2007
NEWS STORY

Association Proposes Foreign Exotic Dancers Bill Changes
The Adult Entertainment Association wants changes to a bill that will allow immigration officers to reject dancers
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http://www.embassymag.ca/html/index.php ... icdancers/
By Brian Adeba

Ruffled by a proposed bill intended to make it extremely difficult for foreign exotic dancers to work in Canada, and fearing a labour shortage in the adult entertainment industry, the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada has proposed a number of amendments it says will protect women from exploitation without stopping them from working.

The recommendations include barring agents from applying for work permits on behalf of foreign dancers, educating foreign workers in their home countries about the adult entertainment industry in Canada, allowing foreign dancers to be eligible for re-entry visas and allowing them to work only in accredited facilities to prevent abuse.

The recommendations come three months after Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley tabled bill C-57 in the House of Commons. If the bill becomes law, it will allow immigration officers to reject foreign workers deemed to be at risk of being sexually exploited, humiliated or degraded.

"I would say that we are in agreement that nobody disputes that we should be avoiding exploitation," said Tim Lambrinos, executive director of the AEAC. "Nobody disputes that we should be avoiding human trafficking. However, not at the expense of legitimate club owners."

Last week, Mr. Lambrinos unveiled the recommendations at an event at Ottawa City Hall. About 40 exotic dancers were present, where they raised concerns about being labeled as prostitutes and criminals by the media and government.

Mr. Lambrinos said an invitation was sent to Ms. Finley, but the minister was said to be unable to attend. Mr. Lambrinos told the dancers, several of whom demanded to know where she was, that the minister has refused to meet with the association, but he will keep working to meet with her.

"Maybe [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] can put someone there that we can work with," he said. "All we have been trying to do with Diane Finley is enlighten her."

In an interview, Mr. Lambrinos alleged exotic dancers are being unfairly picked on as bill C-57 doesn't take into consideration other jobs being filled by migrant workers in Canada.

"How many fruit pickers and farm workers are subjected to degrading and humiliating conditions on a daily basis, working in huts with no ventilation and getting blisters in bunk beds? Why is it that a few hundred exotic dancers are being criticized?" he asked.

Tim Vail, press secretary to Ms. Finley, said the proposed bill will help prevent vulnerable people, such as strippers, from being exploited, while protecting other foreign workers from abuse.

Foreign dancers in Canada, who earn a starting wage of $12 per hour, come from former communist countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Mr. Lambrinos said for years the industry has faced a shortage of exotic dancers from Canada because Canadian women generally harbour a negative attitude towards the profession.

The problem isn't as big in Ontario, however, as women from Quebec fill the shortfall.

"Qu├ębecois women, French-Canadian women, are not uptight about the job of exotic dancing, therefore, there's not a shortage," said Mr. Lambrinos. "But the further you get away from the Quebec border, the higher the demand."

Since the Conservatives came to power early last year, the government has issued 17 visas for foreign exotic dancers, compared to several hundred in 2004 when Paul Martin was prime minister, according to Mr. Lambrinos.

Under current laws, employers have to prove that there is a shortage of Canadian dancers before their applications can be approved.

Peter Rekai, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, said there are no figures on how many foreign dancers are exploited, but added that, generally, only those illegally in the country are abused.

Contrary to popular opinion, bill C-57 does not ban foreign dancers, but gives the immigration minister the discretion to deny entry visas to those working in an industry thought to be exploitative, said Liberal Citizenship and Immigration critic Omar Alghabra.

"That's what I thought was misleading about it," said Mr. Alghabra. "As it stands now, it is an incomplete flawed bill, and I believe whole-heartedly that it was politically motivated and that's why I called it a cheap stunt."

In 2004, Judy Sgro, an immigration minister in the former Liberal government, removed exotic dancers from a priority immigration list after a controversy erupted over a Romanian exotic dancer who volunteered on Ms. Sgro's campaign was given a ministerial permit allowing her to remain in Canada.

An investigation later absolved Ms. Sgro of any wrongdoing, though her staff were said to have known about the permit.

Mr. Rekai alleged that by tabling the bill, the government wanted to score political points by reminding Canadians that it was tough on exotic dancers and remind the public of the Judy Sgro scandal.

"Having done that, I don't think they are really interested in pursuing it," he said.

The bill has been referred to committee, where it will be studied when Parliament re-opens in the fall. Various stakeholders will give their input before the bill is debated and voted on.

brian@embassymag.ca