COVER

‘IMPRISONED’ PROSTITUTES

THE GANGS RUN LUCRATIVE BROTHELS

PAUL KAIHLA March 25 1991
COVER

‘IMPRISONED’ PROSTITUTES

THE GANGS RUN LUCRATIVE BROTHELS

PAUL KAIHLA March 25 1991

‘IMPRISONED’ PROSTITUTES

COVER

THE GANGS RUN LUCRATIVE BROTHELS

The storefront, with its stone facade and brightly lit sign emblazoned with Chinese characters, is sandwiched among bars, convenience stores and video arcades in a run-down strip plaza in eastend Toronto. From a cashier’s window inside the lobby, two Oriental men scrutinize visitors. They buzz open the heavy, locked front door, and after a few questions lead the way into one of half a dozen wood-panelled rooms that line a back hallway. The main piece of furniture inside is a cushioned massage table. An attractive young Oriental woman in a pink, silky pyjama suit enters and introduces herself as May. After a few minutes of massaging her latest client, May asks in broken English: “Massage come in single or double—which would you like?” Her question is a coded offer of sex. The massage parlor itself is one of a network of illicit brothels run by Asian gangs in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

The brothels are part of an extensive new Asian-gang-run crime network that specializes in robbery, extortion, gambling and drug dealing. The strip-plaza brothel, open until 1 a.m. every night, is equipped with a bar and sauna. It also provides carnal pleasures for clients who, for $150 in addition to the regular massage charge of $50, request the “double.” Like other underground Asian brothels, it is staffed exclusively by young, often destitute girls from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Far East where similar clubs thrive. According to police, the girls are imported in groups of 20 to 30 by Asian gangs who often attract them with newspaper ads promising high-wage jobs in Canada as waitresses and entertainers. When they arrive, however, some of the girls become virtual prisoners of brothel managers. Said Det. Michael Hovey, head of an Asian crime squad that has raided several Toronto brothels:

“It boggles my mind when I see teenage girls forced to work in these conditions.” Managers often disguise the brothels as health or massage spas in malls and remote industrial plazas. Some newer Chinese gangs, such as the Dai Huen Jai, or Big Circle boys, also locate them in suburban homes or highrise apartments. To reduce the chances of police detection, they almost always serve only Asian clients.

Guilty: Despite that precaution, police have managed to close some of the brothels. In one case, Wing Bal Ng, 25, and Steven Leong, 36, pleaded guilty last year to a series of charges related to prostitution and forcible confinement. The two Dai Huen Jai members had operated a brothel in a quiet middle-class neighborhood in suburban el Scarborough, amid homes g valued at $250,000. They i had picked their stable of she 1/1 Asian prostitutes by attending a clandestine showing at a hotel on Toronto’s airport strip. A gang associate based in Hong Kong had provided false passports to smuggle about 20 girls into Canada—and then put them on display at the hotel for various brothel keepers. Ng and Leong chose women aged 15 to 25 from Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. The gang turned a weekly profit of $50,000 by charging their Asian clients $150 for each visit to the brothel. The women received $32 of the fee.

The prostitutes often worked under brutal conditions. When two of the women wanted to leave because they had not realized that they would have to work as prostitutes, they were forcibly confined by armed guards. Soon after arriving, one 16-year-old Malaysian had to be treated in hospital after the managers forced her to have intercourse with more than 40 clients in three days. When police raided the operation, officers found a .45-calibre pistol and a .357 magnum hidden in the house. Ng was sentenced to a two-year jail sentence, while Leong and five of the women were deported to their home countries.

Conditions are somewhat better for May. Wearing her long dark hair in a ponytail, the 22-year-old says that she arrived in Toronto four months ago from Hong Kong, lives in her own room nearby and occasionally sends a portion of her weekly $300 salary to her parents. According to one of the brothel’s managers, she is one of 10 girls he recruited through newspaper ads in Hong Kong. “It’s hard to find pretty girls who are experienced,” he said. But in the flesh trade, that is quickly acquired.

PAUL KAIHLA