The City of Edmonton is drafting a bylaw to regulate erotic massage parlours.
The bylaw would consolidate four existing bylaws pertaining to massage practitioners, exotic entertainers and escort licensing into one business-licensing bylaw. The city has had difficulty with enforcement and zoning for these bylaws.
It aims at regulating service providers that "manipulate, touch or stimulate a person's body," and distinguish them from therapeutic or wellness providers.
Coun. Ben Henderson said identifying the type of service being offered can be challenging.
"Is it somebody that's doing massages for health purposes? You know, we need to be able to distinguish that to begin with to understand what you're trying to regulate," said Henderson.
"That line sounds like it should be clearcut, but it often isn't. Because anybody can go out and get accreditation right now [and] what they do with that accreditation you don't know, because it happens behind closed doors."
The new bylaw would increase enforcement, as well as fines. The city is also creating a compliance team made up of several agencies — such as Edmonton police, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety and Citizenship and Immigration Canada — to enforce the new regulations.
One expert on the sex trade is urging the city to move quickly on the bylaw.
Kate Quinn, executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton, said it's taken nearly two decades to get to this point because it's such a touchy subject.
"There is sex being exchanged behind closed doors, but we don't want to talk about it," said Quinn. "So what this change does is it allows us to talk about this more openly and to recognize the fact that there can be organized criminal involvement … [and] there can be human trafficking. And now we'll have a chance to bring that out into the open."
Communities such as Westmount have spoken out against massage parlours in their neighbourhoods.
Henderson said he hopes the bylaw will ultimately give people more say in whether a massage parlour can open in their area.
"But it's hard to do it with something that is only quasi-legal to begin with, because for someone to essentially admit that they're doing something that may or may not be legal — they're not going to do that," he said. "They're going to pretend they're doing something else, and then how do you control that?"
The draft bylaw is expected to be back to council by the end of the year.