Winnipeg councillors want escort, massage parlour crackdown
Unregistered businesses may be gateway to human trafficking, says Coun. Paula Havixbeck
Two Winnipeg city councillors want to see a crackdown on unregistered escort services and massage parlours, in an effort to stop the trafficking of women and girls.
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck presented a motion on Wednesday, seconded by St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, asking city officials for a report back on the number of unregistered massage parlours and escort agencies in the city.
The city's protection and community services committee will review the motion.
Havixbeck says she wants the city to target illegal escort and massage operators, as she believes they can be gateways to human trafficking.
"These establishments are known Canada-wide to be perpetuating human trafficking of women and girls. And so what is Winnipeg's strategy?" she said Tuesday.
Havixbeck said there are at least 35 massage parlours and escort services in Winnipeg, but only a handful of them have paid the $4,500 registration fee to the city.
"Those that don't register are subject to a fine of somewhere in the same amount," she said.
"So they take their chances, it seems, at not paying the fee to register and then instead pay the fine."
Havixbeck said more enforcement and harsher penalties for offenders are needed.
As well, she said regular checks of massage parlours and escort services could help keep girls and women away from human traffickers.
"We would be in harmony with the principles of the motion," George Fraser, executive director of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba, said Wednesday.
Fraser said his association also supports a move at city hall to reclassify massage parlours as "body rub parlours" to prevent the public from confusing the services those businesses offer with massage therapy from trained and registered professionals.
Winnipeg police recently interviewed 15 women, some of whom police believe were forced to participate in the sex trade, at hotels throughout the city as part of a nationwide program to combat human trafficking.
Investigators were not there to lay charges against the women, but instead offered health-care and support services and options for mental and emotional supports.