Exploitation in Canada: human trafficking, exotic dance and temporary visas

Last November, The Alberta Federation of Labour released a report exposing the widespread abuse of foreign workers.

Problems included:

  • job promised being radically different or disappearing upon arrival
  • lower wages than promised
  • demands to perform inappropriate personal services
  • racism
  • deportation and imprisonment threats

The majority of temporary workers are labourers and nannies. Visas for truck drivers, factory workers, cleaners and food services have risen significantly during the past two years. Yet, over the last few years, the plight of exotic dancers has been a focus in the House of Commons.

appropriate action?

Until December 2004, Canada's exotic dancer visa program fast-tracked foreign women through the immigration process to fill a supposed stripper shortage.

This temporary working visa has since been linked to organized crime and sex trafficking.

Canadian immigration officers responded by dramatically cutting the visas granted to foreign exotic dancers. During the last sitting of Parliament, Bill C-17 (formerly known as Bill C-57) was brought forward to solidify the legal authority of immigration officers to deny working visas to foreign nationals deemed at risk for exploitation and abuse.

Already twice introduced in Parliament, the substance of the bill will likely receive a new life after the October 14 federal election.

Many sex worker and immigrant advocacy groups are not convinced the provisions of Bill C-17 can address exploitation.

"[O]nly a handful of work permits have been issued to exotic dancers in recent years. Parliamentary time would be better used to address the broader problem of the exploitation of non-citizens in Canada," states Janet Dench, executive director of Canadian Council for Refugees.

"Trafficking thrives in conditions where there are, one, barriers to workers' migration, and two, poor working conditions," says Dr. Leslie Ann Jeffrey of the University of New Brunswick. "This bill both increases the barriers and fails to address exploitative work conditions and becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution."

Canada: a destination country for sex trafficking
  • approximately 800 persons are trafficked to Canada each year
  • an additional 1,500 to 2,000 are trafficked through Canada to the U.S.
  • 80% of trafficked persons are women and girls; up to half are minors
  • victims are primarily trafficked from Asia, and Eastern Europe, but also Africa and Latin America

Annie Temple of NakedTruth.ca told the Canadian Press, "If the Conservative government is truly concerned about exploitation of exotic dancers, then they should focus on ensuring health and safety standards exist in strip clubs."

STAR Report: Exotic Dancing in Ontario

The Sex Trade Advocacy and Research (STAR) report, Exotic Dancing in Ontario: Health and Safety, shows exotic dancers are denied the normal protections offered to workers outside of the sex industry.

One explanation is the majority of dancers work freelance, paying club owners for working space. Thus, they are not covered by federal and provincial labour legislation and do not benefit from unionization.

Dancers are frequently penalized through club expulsion, arrest and criminal charges if they take action against assault and harassment. This behaviour is treated as an expected "occupational hazard" explains the report, and is extremely high due to dancers' close proximity to intoxicated clients and the belief they are "sexually available."

The report recommends:

  • clarification in legislation and by-laws to include exotic dancers and strip clubs
  • improved health and safety standards in strip clubs
  • police protection from harassment and assault
  • education of police and government officials regarding the treatment of exotic dancers and their work conditions
  • education of exotic dancers on their rights and available support services, available in many languages
  • Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Immigration Canada must assure foreign dancers are not brought into Canada under false pretences and employers must meet public policy requirements

Section 15.ca, Wed Oct 8 2008
Byline: Jenna Owsianik

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