CAPITAL NEWS ONLINE Vol. 23  No. 5  Nov. 28, 2008
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PRINT: Strip clubs need naked (foreign) women to surviveStrip clubs need naked
(foreign) women to survive



OTTAWA †|† ó Strip clubs in Ontario are facing a staffing shortage, mainly because the federal government isn’t granting visas to foreign women who want to come to Canada and bare it all on stage.

At least that’s what the head of the largest association of strip clubs in Canada says.

“We’re facing a very real problem,” says Tim Lambrinos, the executive director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, which represents 42 strip clubs across Ontario. “The government’s putting a real squeeze on the industry and it really is affecting our ability to find dancers.”

Strip clubs in Ontario have been sliding down the pole lately. Some blame a decline in business on a lack of foreign dancers being allowed into the country.

Lambrinos says that the federal government has been stripping down the number of visas granted to foreign exotic dancers since a scandal involving former Liberal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro and the questionable visa extension of a Romanian stripper who worked on Sgro’s campaign.

Things only got worse for the industry when the Conservatives came into power in 2006, Lambrinos says, and the issue took centre stage after Diane Finley was handed the Citizenship and Immigration portfolio.

In addition to the policy measures already in place to crack down on the number of women given permission to strip in Canada, Finley introduced  Bill C-17 — formerly known as Bill C-57 — that would have allowed the department to reject any foreign worker whom the government had reason to believe would be subject to sexual exploitation, humiliation or degradation.  

Lambrinos believes these restrictions are illegal and discriminatory, and unfairly target strip club owners, who often rely on dancers from Eastern Europe and Asia.

'Europeans are generally much more comfortable with the job than Canadians.'

He says that this policy has resulted in the rejection of 93 per cent of the applications for foreign workers put forward by members of his association between 2005 and January of this year.

His association estimates that there are 5,000 women a year who want to come to Canada to work as exotic dancers.

“You can’t just arbitrarily pick a legal occupation and make it nearly impossible for business owners to find staff,” he says. “It’s obvious that they’ve got something against the industry.”

Lambrinos even hired a Toronto lawyer to review Finley’s bill, who claims it would have been struck down by the courts if it hadn’t died in the last election. The association is considering either taking legal action against the government, or finding a way for foreign dancers to attend private schools in Ontario, which would allow them to work for up to 20 hours a week as international students.

Conservative with a capital-C

Though Lambrinos says the need for foreign workers is immediate and very real, these plans are still tentative. He hopes that Finley’s newly sworn-in replacement, Jason Kenney, will be more receptive to his arguments.

But that’s not likely, says the minister’s director of communications, Alykhan Velshi.

He says that the previous Liberal government effectively fast tracked visas for foreign exotic dancers before Sgro’s “Strippergate” affair. He says the current minister has no plans to do the same.

The Brass Rail in Toronto

The Brass Rail in Toronto advertises "totally nude European style female dancers", an apparent neccessity in the stripping industry.

“We’ve closed the Liberal stripper loophole and we have no intention  of revisiting that decision,” he says. “Our government doesn’t believe that one industry should receive preferential treatment when we have a shortage of skilled workers in a range of professions, like doctors, engineers and nurses.”

Lambrinos says the government needs to reconsider this stance and let more foreign strippers into the country because there just aren’t enough Canadian women willing to shed their clothes. He says that this will inevitably have an effect on the economy.

“It’s a huge tourism generator,” he says. “Canada has a reputation as a destination for this kind of entertainment, and we need to maintain that.”

He says fewer Canadian women are willing to take tothe poll because attitudes in Ontario are generally more “prudish.”

“It’s a cultural thing,” he says. “It has to do with your background, what you’re comfortable with. Europeans are generally much more comfortable with the job than Canadians.”

He also says they tend to be better at the job than their Canadian counterparts.

“They are usually more reliable,” he says. “Many of them come here solely to work, so they don’t have as many distractions. A lot of them also come with a lot of experience.”

Risky business

But Mary Taylor, the founder and director of the Exotic Dancers Association of Canada, says the argument that there aren’t enough homegrown strippers to fill the demand simply isn’t true.

“There’s not a shortage of dancers in Canada,” she says. “There’s a shortage of dancers in Canada willing to put up with the conditions of strip clubs here.”

With 21 years of experience in the industry as a dancer and an advocate, she says she’s seen it all in terms of poor working conditions — including unfair contracts, pressure to perform sexual acts on clients, and unreasonable fines.

She says many foreign dancers are willing to put up with these conditions because they are afraid of losing their privilege to be here. To get a visa, foreign strippers have to sign a contract with a single employer for an entire year.

This leaves them particularly vulnerable in their relationship with their employer, and unlikely to complain. Canadian women are less willing to put up with this kind of mistreatment, she says, and this explains some of the industry’s current staffing problems.

Instead of investing so much effort in trying to change government policy, she says Lambrinos and his association should change the way they run their businesses.

“They should spend their time trying to make the industry better for Canadian women so they will want to work here,” she says.

Related Links


Opens in a new window"Strippergate"

Opens in a new windowAdult Entertainment Association of Canada

Opens in a new windowExotic Dancers Rights Association of Canada
A brief history of baring everything

1950s: Burlesque, or striptease, makes its debut in Ontario. Showgirls and their audiences remained physically separated throughout the performance.

1960s to 1970s: This period saw the gradual demise of burlesque shows in theatres, as they moved onto small stages in bars. The style of performance, degree of nudity, and closeness to the audience varied across Canada, with Quebec becoming known for shows that were the most up close and personal.

Mid-1970s: Showgirls were either paid for the number of shows they did for a particular bar, or worked on a circuit, travelling from place to place as feature dancers. They would perform five stripteases of four songs each session. Generally the dancer would perform one song topless, but would keep a g-string on, which customers would tuck “tips” into.

Late 1970s: Several court challenges made it legal to remove the aforementioned g-string, allowing full nudity in the club. Dancers were also allowed to move off the stage, and onto the floor of the clubs, where they performed lap dances for customers.

Early 1980s: “Champagne rooms” or “VIP rooms” provide a place where the             stripper and patron would be out of view of other customers.

Mid-1980s: There was a surge in exotic dancers, as the struggling Canadian economy pushed people into poorly paid service jobs. Strippers would hop from town to town and province to province, looking for the best wages. Many were willing to take pay per shift, as opposed to a set weekly wage. Many club owners justified shift pay through claims that dancers were making more money in private  “VIP” dances.

Early 1990s: Most clubs started charging dancers to be able to strip. They had to pay bar fees, disc jockey fees, and VIP room fees for the opportunity to dance in the club. Many dancers became totally dependent on customers for their income.

Late 1990s: There was an increase in the number and size of strip clubs, and an            increase in the migration of foreign workers who came to dance in them.

Mid-2000s: Many dancers work “freelance,” earning their income exclusively from what customers pay them for personal dances.

Source: Exotic Dancing in Ontario - Health and Safety

 

A prudish nation?

In recent years there have been a number of bylaws and court cases directed at the adult entertainment industry in Canada. We took a peep at a few for you:

-In the early 1980s, Toronto strip club owner Terry Koumoudouros found a loophole in a bylaw that prevented dancers from performing fully nude. They'd dance topless, then put on t-shirts and dance bottomless. He survived a series of fines and court dates for bylaw infractions, but eventually convinced the city to allow dancers to bare all.

- In 2001, the City of Ottawa created a bylaw prohibiting “touching between dancers and customers." The Adult Entertainment Association of Canada argued that the bylaw violated the fundamental right to freedom of expression under the Charter, and that this violation threatened the profitability of their business.

- On May 24, 2007, after a lengthy court battle, the bylaw was upheld. The court also decided that club signs could only use the phrase “adult entertainment parlour” and not more vivid words like “nude,” “naked,” “topless,” “bottomless,” or “sexy.”

-In June 2007, Delta, B.C. proposed a bylaw that would prohibit the sale or rental of adult entertainment products.

-Also in June 2007, the City of Moncton tried to prevent a swingers club from opening in the area. The club went ahead ahead, though, because as long as the partner-swapping was going on behind closed doors it was found to be legal.

 

The skinny on stripping

Under a standard contract, dancers:

• Generally make around $12.50 an hour

• Can perform private dances, which usually cost the client $20 per song.

• Must often pay their employer a percentage of their money from private dances and any tips they make, which can sometimes be as high as 20 per cent.

• Must pay a floor fee just to dance each night.

• Must sometimes pay an additional fee to perform in any private rooms.

 

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