Asian gangs moving into massage business: police
"We've noticed that a lot of the women that we have talked to in these spas — and language is a big issue — but coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, maybe Fiji," said Det. Chuck Prince of the Edmonton Police Service's vice unit. "They seem to be brought in … we believe ... by the organized gangs."
There are around 42 adult massage parlours operating at any one time in Edmonton, Prince said, employing between 400 and 600 women.
The gangs have realized there's lots of money to be made in Edmonton, compared to other Canadian centres hit harder by the recession, Prince said, adding that could be why police were getting up to 10 applications a week last summer for new massage parlours.
"The gangs have found out, 'let's move the girls from the east out to here, and we'll start bringing them from Vancouver or mainland China or Hong Kong," he said.
Police stopped most applications, and have shut down nine massage parlours so far this year, half of them connected with the Asian community, Prince said.
There is a mandatory criminal background check to become a licensed business, as well as routine inspections, but Prince says the gangs have found ways around those controls.
'Our problem is the bylaw'
"Our problem is the bylaw, the way it's written, it has loopholes in it," said Prince.
"If we don't get control of these areas pretty soon, we're going to have a major, major problem."
A woman who runs an Edmonton organization that tries to help women get out of prostitution believes the city already has a major problem.
"There is sexual exploitation happening in those massage parlors,' said Kate Quinn, executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton.
"There is community frustration that is building. Is that what we want our city to be known as?
"I feel strongly that the city has let us all down. Women who may be working in those massage parlours, community members and anyone who's concerned is that we have not done that review of the massage bylaw."