Massage parlour business booming in Regina

Regina police say massage parlours, where sex is often for sale, are rapidly multiplying and there's little they can do to slow down that growth.

From just 2 or 3 a decade ago to as many as 20 today

CBC iTeam's David Fraser visited 8 Regina massage parlours as part of our exclusive investigation. (CBC)

CBC iTeam investigation uncovers sex for sale

Hidden camera shows what goes on inside massage parlours

(Warning: Some language may offend)

Using a hidden camera, CBC's iTeam visited massage parlours all over Regina — and what they found is that there are more than just backrubs for sale.

A member of the iTeam, David Fraser, visited addresses on Albert Street, Broad Street, Victoria Avenue, Rose Street and 11th Avenue.

He asked what services were available before leaving.

In six out of eight cases, offers for sexual services for payment were either made directly or implied.

CBC Saskatchewan's iTeam took a hidden camera inside a number of Regina's massage parlours. (CBC)

One woman explained that a "hand job" would cost "a total of $85."

Several others said a full body massage would conclude with a "happy ending" — massage parlour code for an orgasm.

At most of the locations the women were reluctant to discuss details of the services offered.

There are more signs like this around Regina than there were a decade ago, Regina Police say. (CBC)

In one case, after offering a "happy ending," one woman explained: "I talk with you too much already. I will get in trouble, you know."

But at another location, the woman at the front counter freely offered more detail.

She indicated that she had 10 different women on offer who are "all different sizes, shapes and colours", from a "slender, somewhat busty and blond" woman to an "extremely busty brunette".

"Not fat, not skinny. An hour-glass figure," she said.

An increasingly common sight in Regina: neon signs advertising massage parlours. (CBC)

She explained the massage parlour is open every day with one exception. "The only day we ever close our doors is Christmas day."

"You can start from $100 being the bottom of the cookie jar not getting a lot." she explains. "They don't even get undressed for that."

But she explained "you still get a little something something. A little smile."

However "if you're looking for the whole shebang" the price starts at $200 for a half hour.


Regina police say massage parlours, where sex is often for sale, are rapidly multiplying and there's little they can do to slow down that growth.

"There's more and more opening up all the time," Detective Corporal Tim Filazek told CBC's iTeam. He said a decade ago "there [were] two or three or four. Now you're seeing 15 to 20."

Filazek added it's not difficult to understand why the sensual massage business is exploding here.

"With the economic boom come more jobs come more people, more disposable income. We're seeing more and more massage parlours open up."

And, he pointed out, because of a directive from the Crown prosecutor's office, "we're kind of limited of what we can do."

In December, the Supreme Court declared Canada's prostitution laws unconstitutional.

Filazek said that led Crown prosecutors in Saskatchewan to recommend police stop laying some prostitution related charges as there's little hope of a conviction.

Massage parlours offering sex for sale

Massage parlours can be found in houses or retail locations on many of Regina's major arteries, like Albert, Broad and Victoria.

A hidden camera investigation by CBC's iTeam confirmed that many massage parlours in Regina offer sexual services for cash.

Filazek says he has conducted his own undercover operation of several massage parlours "and the investigation led to me determining that sexual activity was taking place there."

Massage parlours are a well-known front for prostitution. Many are essentially brothels in disguise.

"These are really places of suspended disbelief," explains Benjamin Perrin, a UBC law professor who specializes in researching sex trafficking.

"We all drive by and say 'Well really? Is this a registered massage therapist at three in the morning with flashing neon lights?'  We all know that's not what's happening in there."

But Filazek's investigation found that at least some people have been taken by surprise.

"We had a person come up to us and say 'You know what? I had a sore back I went to a massage parlour and after the massage was done the lady offered me sexual services in exchange for money.'"

Canada's prostitution laws in legal limbo

Last December, the Supreme Court ruled Canada's prostitution laws unconstitutional.

Those laws will remain in force until December 2014, giving the federal government time to draft and adopt new legislation.

Despite that, the Regina Police Service says it's been told to stop laying some charges until a new law is in place.

"Some of the senior crown prosecutors have given the advice as to not lay these charges because they would not go very far in the court system." Filazek told CBC.

In an email, the Ministry of Justice confirms it has advised the province's police services to take a different direction. 

"Prosecutions’ focus for the foreseeable future will be on those procuring services from sex trade workers and not on the sex trade workers themselves."

Filazek points out that even prior to the Supreme Court's decision it was very difficult to convict someone of running a common bawdy house or living off the avails of prostitution.

Police would have to prove that sex was being sold at a massage parlour and that the owner of the business was getting a cut.

Police still monitor massage parlours

Filazek pointed out the vice unit is still actively monitoring massage parlours by making regular visits to determine who is working there.

"We're making sure that the staff at these massage parlours aren't underage. That they're not minors. That they're working on their own free will." Filazek explained.

Regina police officer Tim Filazek says the police continue to do checks on massage parlours to make sure the employees are not underage or are victims of human trafficking. (CBC)

And he says the growing number of massage parlours appears to have resulted in fewer women working the streets.

"I think for the public it's better. They're not seeing the girls standing on the street corner. Kids walking home from school, they're not walking past street workers or clients driving by the street workers while little kids are out."

Searching for prostitution laws that work

Benjamin Perrin, a UBC law professor who specializes in researching sex trafficking, says the landmark Supreme Court decision that declared the country's prostitution laws unconstitutional is an opportunity for Canada to find a new and more effective approach to dealing with a very old problem.

According to Perrin, Canada's current laws were designed to target the nuisance of prostitution, keeping it off the streets and out of public view.

Supreme Court decision changed emphasis to protection

But he said the Supreme Court found Canada's laws failed to deliver on a more important criteria, "providing any meaningful protection to people who are prostituted and sex trafficking victims."

Benjamin Perrin, a former legal adviser to the PMO, is set to testify at the MIke Duffy trial. (CBC)

And Perrin said it's women who have faced the brunt of Canada's criminal laws in this area.

"What you had is a system that really focused criminal sanction against those people who are, in my view, the victims in these scenarios in many cases. And the men who were paying and driving demand for prostitution and sex trafficking facing virtually no penalties."

Most people jailed for prostitution-related crimes are women

According to Perrin, 92 percent of people jailed for communicating for the purpose of prostitution in Canada are female.

Perrin has researched the approaches that various countries have taken regarding prostitution.

He says legalization has "been a failed social experiment in all of the countries that we looked at."

"The most vulnerable prostitutes are never in those so-called government-approved brothels, because they have either sexually transmitted diseases or mental health issues, which prevent them from legally being in those brothels," Perrin found.

"So the most disadvantaged people will never benefit from any of those so-called protections."

Nordic model could point the way

In 2007, the approach which criminalizes pimps and johns but offers assistance rather than punishment to prostitutes, was endorsed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

And, Perrin noted, "we also know that the Conservative Party of Canada adopted a policy resolution in October which essentially recommends the Swedish model be adopted as national policy."

About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.


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