Dancing in a Dangerous Time: Canada’s Treatment of Foreign Strippers



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Guest post by Jessica Templeman. This post is based on Jessica’s MA research completed at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto for which she was awarded the H.S. Thurston Fellowship in Policing and Organized Crime. Jessica currently works at the Bellissimo Law Group, a Canadian immigration law firm, where she manages legal research and writing for three publications: IMMQuest, the Immigration Law Reporter, and a supplemented book titled Immigration, Criminality and Inadmissibility.

Parliament of Canada (Source: parl.gc.ca)
On 13 March 2012, the Government of Canada saw the passage of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Part 5 (clauses 205 to 208) of this Act introduced substantive changes to the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which gives immigration officers the authority to refuse applications for temporary resident permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Refusals must be consistent with instructions given by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, which in turn must be aimed at protecting foreign nationals from exploitation.

Previously, migrants wishing to work in Canada as exotic dancers could obtain status by applying for what was colloquially known as the ‘stripper visa.’ These temporary resident permits would allow an individual to enter the country for a specified period to work for (usually) a single employer. Now, with the passage of Bill C-10 on 4 July 2012, the Honourable Jason Kenney, former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, issued instructions for immigration officers to cease processing applications under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from people seeking employment in strip clubs and massage parlours, or as escorts. In announcing these instructions, Minister Kenney stated that these changes were meant to protect vulnerable foreign nationals (mainly women and children) from their exploitation in the Canadian sex industry.

Critics argue, however, that these measures exacerbate the vulnerability of migrants by forcing them to seek out clandestine paths to cross the border―at times with the assistance of smugglers and organized crime groups. By entering the country without status, such people live hidden lives to avoid the risk of deportation. Those who are abused after crossing the border cannot access law enforcement assistance without uncovering their illegal status. Under these circumstances, their vulnerability rises.

As is well known, the definition of trafficking in the Protocol to Suppress, Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children remains ambiguous on the matter of consent to sex work. Trafficking is defined as occurring where an individual is subjected to any form of ‘exploitation.’ Migrant consent in situations of exploitation is deemed irrelevant, yet the term is undefined. Ratifying states are left with the power to interpret the UN Convention and the term ‘exploitation’ as they see fit.

Migration laws are intimately tied to sovereignty because they provide the power to determine who may enter a country. Where this power begins to slip away with globalization and the irregular movement of migrants, states resort to increased securitization of immigration legislation to reassert sovereign control and capacity. In addition to the Trafficking Protocol, the UN Convention provided states with greater powers to inhibit migration processes through the adoption of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling Protocol). This Protocol criminalizes all unauthorized movement across a border, catching trafficked persons who enter a country without status. Given the current concern of the sovereign with securitization, the combination of the Smuggling and Trafficking Protocols ultimately created the opportunity to define most victims as ‘smuggled,’ and thus criminal, rather than ‘trafficked.’

When analyzing the domestic interpretation and application of the Trafficking Protocol, I found that the definition of trafficking fluctuates depending on the individual’s stage in the migration process. States adopt an abolitionist discourse in legislation targeting potential trafficking victims who haven’t yet left their country of origin, defining all sex work as unfree. Repressive measures to stop migration are then justified as a means to protect these individuals from their inevitable exploitation. In cases where a victim has already entered the destination country, the migrant’s agency is recognized and only those individuals who can prove that they unwillingly crossed the border are defined as trafficked. Those who chose to begin their migration process are redefined as smuggled migrants and deported regardless of the exploitation they may have experienced.

Fluctuation between these two discourses on consent in turn serves to exact the power of the sovereign at multiple sites. In the former situation, legislation protects the border by accepting that migrants are unable to consent to movement and thus must be stopped from entering the country. In the latter, the zone of exclusion is established by reconstructing victims of trafficking who have voluntarily crossed the border as smuggled migrants, thus justifying their deportation under the Smuggling Protocol.

Canadian Senate (Source: We Are Canadians)
Canada’s Bill C-10 adopts an abolitionist discourse as a means to extend the ‘zone of exclusion’ outside of the border by giving greater authority to immigration officials to deny work permits based on vulnerability. An analysis of the first version of the bill (presented in 2007) shows that drafters relied heavily on two separate Parliamentary studies conducted on human trafficking in Canada: (1) The Challenge of Change: A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws; and (2) Turning Outrage Into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada. Each report reflects an abolitionist perspective, linking prostitution to trafficking and negating all consent to sex work. Ironically, the second report recognizes the need to enhance migration channels as a means to combat trafficking, noting evidence that trafficking decreases when women are able to migrate legally and independently. Clearly, these suggestions were ignored.

The trafficking of foreign exotic dancers was specifically used to justify the creation of changes to the IRPA in Bill C-10. Yet, the changes brought about through this Bill weren’t developed on factual grounds, but solely on the adoption of an abolitionist discourse that negates migrant consent to any work in the sex industry. The government used this discourse to extend the ‘zone of exclusion’ by giving immigration officers the ability to stop migrants from entering the country. These changes are one among other attempts by the government to criminalize immigration and establish sovereign control over the border.

The Canadian government shows no sign of diversion from its quest to securitize the border. In June 2012, the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was launched. This Plan outlines the government’s intention to spend CAD$25 million over the next four years on improving Canada’s ability to detect and prosecute human trafficking. In addition, also in June 2012, Bill C-31 was passed, introducing amendments to the IRPA requiring the automatic detention of ‘irregular arrivals’ as designated by the Minister of Public Safety. Trafficking victims who don’t have legitimate access to the country may of course receive this designation.

For more on this topic on the Border Criminologies blog, see The Shifting Landscape of the Canadian Border and the Politics of Refugee Exclusion by Efrat Arbel and Changes to the Canadian Immigration Detention System by Stephanie J. Silverman.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Templeman J (2014) Dancing in a Dangerous Time: Canada’s Treatment of Foreign Strippers. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/dancing-in-a-dangerous-time/ (accessed [date]).

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