2 min

Harassing hookers

Toronto massage parlours continue to face police raids and arrests – despite there being no public complaints against them.

Project Almonzo has joined together the Toronto Police Service with other area police forces and immigration officials, to

investigate and bust companies and individuals involved in migrant sex trade.

Differing from two sensational raids on Asian massage parlours early in 1999 and in ’97, recent raids have been carried out quietly, far from the glare of media attention.

But recent busts have been against businesses who’ve hired white women from Eastern Europe. These don’t lend themselves to the easy racial stereotypes of “sex slaves” that filled front page headlines last time around.

The raids have still been just as successful in shutting down businesses and placing migrant women workers into hot water with Citizenship And Immigration Canada.

Project Almonzo investigations date back as early as June of ’98, with more than 80 people charged since May of this year. Charges vary from keeping or being a found-in in a common bawdy house, to living off the avails of prostitution, to forgery, to exercising control.

West end businesses such as Solid Gold II, Features, Charlie T’s and the House Of Lancaster are at the centre of the arrests, with strippers and strip clubs face charges for the first time. Eleven women are being held, facing the double criminalization of immigration charges as well.

This is just a partial list of arrests.

• October 1998: Project Almonzo investigators follow individuals to

Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Mexico as they solicit women to come to Canada to work as strippers and/or prostitutes. Arrests made Sep 29, 1999, with 15 charges in total.

• May 5, 1999: 23 bawdy house charges laid in a raid on the strip club Features, with three people held by Immigration Canada.

• May 28: 29 bawdy house charges laid in a raid on licensed massage parlour Charlie T’s, with two people held by Immigration Canada.

• Jul 15: 81 charges laid, including living off the avails of

prostitution, bawdy house charges, forcible confinement and exercising control, in a simultaneous raid on two locations of the strip club Solid Gold II.

• Aug 27: 16 bawdy house charges laid in a raid on the strip club The House Of Lancaster, with six people held by Immigration Canada.

• Sep 9: Outstanding arrest in The House of Lancaster made, with one individual charged with 16 charges including living off the avails of prostitution, keeping a bawdy house and exercising control.

The Migrant Sex Trade Workers Alliance, founded after the earlier raids, continues to meet and support women facing charges.

The group now has a phone line through Maggie’s (at 416-964-0150).

And last week, Vaughan Council had its restrictive new zoning by-law upheld by the Ontario Municipal Board – making every massage parlour in one area of the city illegal.

The by-law limits licensed parlours to daytime hours only and gives the city the right to move directly to eviction instead of issuing fines.

Vaughan Council claims to be acting on a “deluge” of complaints.