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February 25, 2000 09:00am
Strip club raided, owner faces prostitution-related charges
Source: The Globe and Mail
by: Estanislao Oziewicz

A special law enforcement task force raided a west-end strip club last night and charged the owner with a sexual assault and number of prostitution-related offences, including procuring foreign women.

The raid on Baby Dolls at Evans Avenue near Kipling Avenue -- which advertises "20 Hot Girls to Start Your Furnace" -- is the latest in a series on Toronto-area strip clubs under Project Almonzo, a year-long investigation into trafficking of foreign women for prostitution.

The investigation has focused on women who have entered Canada illegally and also those who have come legally on six-month renewable visas. The Immigration Act allows foreign strippers to come to Canada as long as they can show they have a job offer and that they have some experience.

As police executed a search warrant on the club, where Hungarian and Romanian dancers worked, Jeff Ramdowar, of Toronto's Streetlight Support Services -- a provincially funded initiative to help foreign women caught in police raids -- was on standby with translators.

Toronto Police Detective Bert O'Mara said some of the women will be released, some will be charged as inmates of a common bawdy house and some may be charged with offences under the Immigration Act.

Patrons who arrived at the club after the raid were told it was closed "unless you want to get busted."

Agencies involved in Project Almonzo include the Toronto police morality squad, Ontario's Alcohol and Gaming Commission, the Ontario Provincial Police, York and Peel region police, the federal Immigration Department and the Toronto Licensing Commission.

Hundreds of prostitution and immigration-related charges against scores of dancers, patrons and club owners have already been laid.

The investigation has led to the closing of some clubs after hearings before the province's alcohol and gaming commission.

The liquor licence of a west-end strip club, for example, was revoked last year after owners acknowledged "dancers working in the licensed premises performed sexual acts on patrons in exchange for money."

At the hearing, Det. O'Mara, who leads Project Almonzo, testified that foreign women are being recruited in Canada and abroad for the exotic dancing industry.

He said the fees the women must pay their recruiters "gives new meaning to 'owing one's soul to the company store,' and encourages, if not compels, these women to prostitute themselves to meet expenses."

In his decision for the club to surrender its licence, commission chair Clare Lewis said: "The commission does not license brothels."

In an interview last year, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner said that the Toronto police and its partners in Project Almonzo have been shocked by the extent of illegality in strip clubs.

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