Saturday, September 12, 1998

Timothy Appleby
Sara Jean Green

p. A12.

Arrests total 115 in prostitution-related raids

Overnight blitz by more than 200 police officers in York Region and Toronto hits 19 locations; charges confined to two strip clubs

Major Mack Hotel in Richmond Hill and Bunnies in Markham were the only two sites where police laid prostitution-related charges in an overnight blitz on 19 locations in York Region and Toronto. Kathleen Findlay/The Globe and Mail

One hundred and fifteen people were charged with prostitution-related offences after more than 200 police officers staged an overnight blitz in York Region and Toronto.

Four police forces were involved in raids that began Thursday evening and ended early yesterday.

The five-month operation led to the arrests of 81 women and 34 men.

In five cases, customers and dancers were found having sex in cubicles, Sergeant John Sheldon of York Regional Police said.

A total of 19 locations were raided, but all the arrests took place at the Major Mack Hotel, also known as the Fantasia Hotel, on Yonge Street in Richmond Hill and the Bunnies club in neighbouring Markham.

At the Major Mack Hotel, 46 women and 22 men were arrested. At Bunnies the totals were 35 women and 12 men.

The exotic dancers were charged with being inmates of a common bawdy house.

Both strip clubs were open for business again last night.

The continuing investigation, in which all search warrents have been sealed, also involves allegations of extortion, assault, drugs, theft, obstruction of police and drug offences.

This was not the Fantasia club's first brush with the law. In April, 1995, 50 staff members and visitors were charged with prostitution-related offences. The Bunnies club was also known to the police.

This week's arrests were preceded by extensive undercover surveillance targeting lap dancing, which has been outlawed since March of last year, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that dancers must keep their distance from customers.

That ruling decreed that sitting naked on a customer's lap and rubbing against him was indecent and a criminal act.

The genesis of the court ruling was a Toronto bylaw, and since then, local bylaw officers have laid charges in a number of clubs.

Over all, "the situation has moderated. But you still have your bad actors," said a police source involved with the York Region operation.

In the trade it's called "dirty dancing," and while many strippers won't do it, there are others, particularly from overseas, who will.

"There's clubs in Toronto I won't dance at because of what you're expected to do," said 29-year-old LIsa (a pseudonym). "But there are a lot of new women who've come in, from Eastern Europe especially, who don't care, they just want the money."

A change to immigration laws now requires that before six-month work visas are issued to those strippers, who account for half the Canadian total, they must prove, with photographs and portfolios, that they are bona fide dancers. (U.S. strippers are exempt from the new rules.)

An estimated 500 foreign strippers apply each year to work in Canada.

The law was changed because of public perception that strippers were being too easily admitted, said Toronto immigration lawyer Evan Green, whose firm represents several strip clubs.

"You can't bring a foreign doctor into the country, but a stripper can walk in tomorrow?" he said. "It was seen as an abuse of the law." Describing his firm's clients as highly reputable, Mr. Green noted that stripping is lucrative.

"A woman can make enough money in two years and return to her home country and never have to work again," he said, adding that annual incomes can be $70,000.

"There still is concern about the importance of foreign girls working in those places," the police source said.

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Created: October 5, 1998
Last modified: October 6, 1998

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