The city should eliminate licence fees paid by women who work in Edmonton's erotic massage parlours, says a council committee.

The community and public services committee also agreed Monday to have city staff look at possible ways to have parlour customers identify themselves.

Coun. Scott McKeen made a three-part motion: to eliminate the fees, to investigate better ways to identify customers and to have staff issue an annual report about the industry.

Those steps, McKeen said, would help the city deal with an industry that is "extremely complex and ugly."

"All that we all want to do is see people be safe," he said.

Women who work in the parlours currently pay an annual fee of $230. A city report recommended the amount be reduced to $89, but the committee instead voted to eliminate the fees altogether.

City staff were asked to bring back a report about the recommended changes early in the fall.

McKeen's motion came after two presentations to the committee.

Call for some changes

Susan Holtby, with the group Edmonton Women and Allies Against the Sex Industry, told councillors she has heard from women who work in the industry who have been bitten and assaulted.

"If this was any other group of people, immigrants, a race, this would not be accepted in Edmonton," she said.

Poverty is one reason women work in massage parlours, said Kathleen Quinn, with the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation 

She suggested the licensing fees for practitioners in body rub centres be eliminated, and said those who buy the services should be required to provide identification, so they can be more easily traced by police in the events of problems.

The city also needs to do a better job of tracking the number of women who work in the industry, and how many of them are offered counselling, Quinn said.

There also needs to be a clear process for people who want to complain about body rub centres in their neighbourhoods, said Holtby.

"When I read in the (city) report that there's very few complaints about the body rubs, we don't know who to call," she said. 

City staff said annual reports will be presented to the committee with more comprehensive statistics, and details of a complaints process.

Word of caution from councillor

Coun. Ben Henderson said the city has to walk a fine line, because over-regulating the industry could drive it underground.

He said asking customers who frequent erotic massage parlours to produce identification could push the business underground, or on to the internet.

"We can't protect people online," Henderson said. "It's happening behind closed doors, it's a much worse scenario than what we're looking at here in terms of the safety of the people working in it."

"We are moving step by step to help these women," said Coun. Bev Esslinger. "Today is another step."