August 27, 2012
College student strippers offered tuition cash, bonuses
By TOM GODFREY, QMI Agency
TORONTO -- Female college students are receiving offers of tuition money and bonuses for signing up to work as strippers at a Windsor, Ont., club.
Management at the Leopard's Lounge and Broil is trying to fill a void left by foreign dancers who have been sent packing from Canada by the federal government.
Students who work at the club are eligible for up to $1,700 in tuition for full or part-time classes in area colleges or the University of Windsor, providing they maintain a B-plus average.
"The girls can take any class they want to help better themselves," said Robert Katzman, who owns several clubs in Windsor and the U.S. "We have girls studying business, finance, to become nursing assistants and one taking chiropractory."
Katzman offers a $500 signing bonus to new dancers providing they meet certain guidelines, loans to cover first and last month's rent for apartments, and will provide money for women to travel to Windsor.
The club also offers assistance to dancers when it comes to hair, makeup, costumes and developing a stage show.
The Wyandotte St. W. lounge is no stranger to controversy.
Hundreds of fans packed the bar last January for a dwarf-tossing contest that local officials sought to have banned. It was the second time in 10 years the club hosted the event that generated international hype.
Katzman, a director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, said club owners are scrambling to fill a demand for dancers after Ottawa last month stopped issuing visas to foreign strippers.
There are up to 800 foreign strippers in Canada and a number of them have vowed to go underground and work in the sex trade if they can't legally work in the country. The dancers -- many from Eastern Europe and South America -- represent about 5% of the 38,000 strippers working in clubs across Canada.
"We lost a lot of cross-border dancers who used to drive across the border to work," Katzman added. "The American girls love it here but now they have to get a visa."
His clubs, which used to hire 170 dancers including 30 foreign strippers, have launched an advertising blitz on social media and foreign-language newspapers in Canada to recruit dancers from different ethnic backgrounds. Prior to the ban, dancers were recruited in Hungary, Estonia, Italy, France, Iceland and Sweden.
Katzman now has nine dancers who must leave when their visas expire in several weeks.
"All of them are returning home," he said. "They have no health or other benefits and feel they were cheated by Canada."
He added dancers were paying thousands of dollars yearly in taxes and "felt they were Canadians.
"We have lost about 13 girls so far after their visas expired and they went back home," Katzman said. "In all, we've lost six girls with mortgage payments, 11 that had apartment leases, and 16 with car and credit card payments."
Katzman complained most of his dancers have been with his club for many years "and almost all send money back home."
"A lot of clubs in the border towns and Toronto are suffering because of a lack of foreign dancers," Katzman said. "Our dancers are a diverse group who come from all over the world."
Exotic dancer Pearl, 35, has been dancing in Canada for more than a year and has to return to Asia in November when her visa expires.
"I am still stunned because I was hoping to stay here," explained Pearl, who didn't want her real name used. "I have been working hard and have credit card payments and rent to pay."
Pearl, who said she has a university degree in mathematics, added she sends money home to her parents.
Tim Lambrinos, director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, said Ontario clubs can use another 1,000 dancers.
Lambrinos said an earlier plan to recruit dancers in high schools was nixed, and a lawyer has been hired to work with police and to try to overturn the stripper ban.
"This situation has left a lot of the girls frustrated and stressed out," he said. "They are living day by day and don't know if they will be allowed to stay in Canada."
Officials of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said they are "taking action to protect vulnerable foreign workers from the risk of abuse and exploitation in sex trade-related businesses."
Association lawyer Richard Kurland said a legal challenge will be launched in October to try and keep the dancers here.
The issuance of controversial "stripper visas" date to 1998 when rules allowed hundreds of foreign dancers into the country each year. All they had to do was provide a Canadian job offer from a strip club and prove they were qualified to work as exotic dancers.
Roughly 100 of the visas have been renewed each year since 2006.
Support for the program has plummeted ever since Liberal MP Judy Sgro resigned as immigration minister in 2000 when she was facing accusations of fast-tracking paperwork for a stripper who worked on her campaign in a scandal dubbed "Strippergate."