To strippers working in Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall is the ultimate tease.
For decades, the province was the only place in Canada where it was illegal to strip in bars, clubs, and other places that serve alcohol. Then, in a surprising move last January, Premier Wall reversed those laws, finally allowing strip shows and wet t-shirt contests at bars and clubs.
While the province's longstanding ban on full frontal stripping remained intact—with strippers required to wear nipple covers (pasties) and g-strings at a minimum—strippers and bar owners across the province were overjoyed by the new business opportunities. Strip shows hosted in bars in rural towns brought in waves of tourism and boosted the local economy.
"We were so stoked with all the bar gigs we were getting," Kruella Kraken, a stripper based in Saskatoon, told me. "Everyone was finally accepting us and the shows. It was awesome."
But those glory days were short-lived. In March, just over a year later, Wall changed his mind again and reinstated the old laws, once again making it illegal to strip in licensed venues. Many in Saskatchewan were annoyed by the abrupt change, but not surprised. Then things got weirder when Wall announced last month one exception to the ban: stripping would be allowed only once a year—for charity.
Now, local strippers are combating the province's erratic stripping rules by taking the industry into their own hands—a move they say also comes with its own set of risks. Even though, technically, they could put on shows at dry venues, you just can't have a strip show without booze, they say.
So, a couple weeks after the law was reinstated, Kruella Kraken founded The Pink Champagne Girls, the province's first traveling strip show. With poles and stage in tow, she and her fellow strippers are bringing the strip club experience to private homes and hotels across Saskatchewan. "This is what we have done to combat the government," she told me.
Demand for their services—mostly from men—has been steady, and they expect the number of clients to increase throughout the summer. Burlesque troupes, club owners, and strippers are also banding together to put on a stripping bash for charity in the next few months.
The fallout is just another episode in the province's long history of cracking down on stripping. One club was fined in 2012 when a dancer's shadow could still be seen from behind the stage where she was removing her jacket. Another club got a verbal warning when a dancer removed a glove during a performance. And the list goes on.
In 2001, Cory Thompson—also known as the "strip club crusader" for flouting the province's stripping laws—attempted to challenge the ban of stripping in bars at the Supreme Court, arguing it was a violation of freedom of expression. The court declined to hear his case because the ban applies only in places that serve alcohol.
In January, when stripping in bars was still legal, the city council in Regina denied an application to open a strip club. Dozens of concerned citizens and a coalition of evangelical churches showed up to the meeting to voice their opposition. The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation when the council read its decision.
Wall has said his latest decision was not influenced by lobbying from community groups. He and the province's liquor and gaming minister argued it was in the interest of making women safer and preventing organized crime by folks like the Hells Angels. "The whole point is to get away from it being a business," the liquor and gaming minister, Don McMorris, told reporters.
I spoke with several strippers based in Saskatchewan who refute the claim that exploitation is rife in the industry and say neither they nor any other strippers they know are being forced into it.
Wall's senior communication advisor wrote to me an email that the government's decision came after the premier "had discussions with police officials" who told him that "close to 100 percent of strip clubs in Central Canada were operated by the Hells Angels." He refused to say what evidence or statistics the premier had about the extent of human trafficking in the province nor how these laws would prevent it and organized crime. "The government decided that it didn't make sense to risk even the possibility of an expansion of organized crime and human trafficking in Saskatchewan through the establishment of strip clubs," the email concluded.
Kruella Kraken and her colleagues told me the new ban will have the opposite effect because it's already driving the industry further underground. While her travelling strip show business is off to a promising start, she says there are serious downsides to working in private homes. "We never really know what we're walking into," she told me. "It's always a little scary. I would much rather work in a strip club where I know I'm going to be protected, where it's regulated."
Evey Rose, who performs with Kraken, says she tries to be prepared for any scenario, including paying extra for security guards, but the guys at house parties who hire them are usually more belligerent than those partying at strip clubs. "If the guys are drinking, that's totally legitimate, but it's hard to keep someone sober to get everything set up beforehand," she told me. "If something were to happen, it's just much less safe an environment, whereas a club has bouncers and more of an ability to kick out people who are misbehaving."
I spoke to Jasmin Bieber, who owns the Regina-based burlesque and strip show company Bare Essentials. Since the ban came into effect, her company has ramped up its private event bookings. She echoes Rose and Kraken's concerns and says that even in the few weeks since the new stripping ban came into effect, a handful of strippers she knows her are turning to sex work to make up for the business they've lost at the clubs.
"We wonder why the government is pushing the industry underground when that's going to also push other girls into different means of making money," she told me. "It can push them into prostitution, and that's what the government says it's trying to prevent. You're not preventing it, you're encouraging it without even realizing it."
Bieber is planning protests and petitions to urge the government to change its mind. Other dancers have started Change.org campaigns and taken to Twitter to bombard the premier's account using the hashtag #NippleHour. "[Y]ou can bitch, but the strippers gon' keep strippin," tweeted Jacqui Daniels, who manages Tiger Lily Cabaret, a burlesque company in Saskatoon.
Kraken and Bieber admit it's difficult to work in such a restrictive environment, but neither of them would want to move anywhere else. Stripping around Saskatchewan has reinforced Kraken's love for her home. "It's amazing getting to see so much of this province through my work," Kraken told me. "I've considered moving to another province where my work is more respected. But I won't let the government push me out."
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