Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Government is a pimp for desperate women from other countries

VICTORIA - Most Canadians would be dead ashamed to know that their government is playing pimp to desperate women from around the world.
But it is, helping to recruiting 665 women last year to come to Canada and work in sleazy strip clubs, doing lap dances and more for half-drunk men.
Federal Immigration Minister Judy Sgro is in trouble for allegedly giving preferential treatment to one of those women, a Romanian stripper who worked on her election campaign.
But that's not the real scandal.
For seven years now the Canadian government has been a partner in the global sex trade, offering special two-year immigration permits to women recruited to come here and work in strip clubs. Send a naked picture to immigration officials - that's demanded to prove that you're willing to do the work - and the usually tough immigration rules are relaxed.
The special visa program is supposed to cover jobs that Canadians can't or won't do.
But strip club owners have managed to convince the federal government that they should have the right to hunt the world for desperate women to work the floors of their bars. It is a national disgrace.
It's no coincidence that the program started seven years ago. University of Toronto la professor Audrey Macklin, who has studied the issue, says that's when strip clubs began demanding contact with customers and sex acts from dancers. They couldn't find Canadian women willing to enter this new branch of the sex trade, so they appealed to the Liberal government for help. And to their shame, the government said yes.
Anyone who spent even one moment thinking about the implications of this program for the women would know it's a disaster. Young women are recruited from Costa Rica or Mexico or Romania, either by local agents or brokers who travel from Canada to find them and recruit them to work in Canadian bars.
It's all legal. The government issues visas - once immigration officials see the nude photo and a job offer - and the women are brought here. They know no one, often speak little English and are completely dependent on the brokers, who arrange apartments - often over-priced - tell them where to work and generally control their lives. They are sent back home if they stop working, or complain about being forced into the sex trade.
It is a formula for exploitation.
The government can't plead ignorance. Almost from the time the program began, police and others have been warning that the women were being exploited and coerced into the sex trade.
Six years ago the RCMP, immigration officials and Toronto-area police launched a major investigation that found many of the women were sex slaves, exploited and abused with no way out. They were recruited to dance - or in some cases told they would be cleaning, or singing in clubs - and ended up working as prostitutes.
Other investigations have revealed the same pattern of abuse and exploitation. Once they are here, the women are controlled and pressured to perform sex acts with the bar's customers. Saying no means deportation, at best. Canadians could walk away from the demands; these women can't
Incredibly, Sgro still defends the program. Strip bars are "a strong industry," she says, and if they need help recruiting young women from poor countries as fresh meat, then the Canadian government will be there for them.
Imagine someone you love so desperate that she agrees to be treated this way, and how you would feel about the government that was a partner in her debasement.
Others claim the program offers the women an opportunity. But if Canada cared for one second about the women, it could offer visa programs that would allow them a chance to use other skills in in this country. Instead, it wants sex trade workers.
Canada mouth its opposition to the global sex trade, and trafficking in women.
But its actions show it for just another pimp.
Footnote: The sex bar business does have clout; Sgro's top aide went to a strip bar to meet with a disgruntled owner. But it's time politicians heard from Canadians who don't want their government sponsoring global trafficking in women for the sex trade. Sgro's email address is sgro.j@parl.gc.ca and Prime Minister Paul Martin's is martin.p@parl.gc.ca.

No comments: