A Toronto city councillor says it may be time to re-examine the number of licences granted to massage parlours and holistic centres — businesses that bring in nearly $1 million to city coffers every year.
Police have not drawn any connection between Hua Guang Liu's death and her former job in a Scarborough body-rub parlour, or her spa business. But the 41-year-old mother of three was last seen on Aug. 10, outside her closed-down Forget Me Not spa in Toronto's east end.
Friends have told CBC News that Liu was planning to sell the spa after only a few months in business and, on the evening she went missing, she was scheduled to meet a prospective buyer.
Some of her severed remains were discovered last week in a park in Mississauga, Ont., and in a creek near her former business.
Liu received three licenses from the City of Toronto.
In April 2010, she was licensed as a body rubber in order to work at Asia Studios.
Two years later she applied for and was given a licence as a holistic practitioner to work at Forget Me Not. And in May 2012, she was licensed as an operator of a holistic centre.
None of the licences are free.
According to the city, only 25 body-rub parlours are allowed to operate in the city at any one time.
The initial fee collected to operate a body-rub parlour is $11,794.02 and the continuing renewable fee for all 25 amounts to $284,922.50 per year.
Every person applying to be a body rubber pays a $354 fee and then a $249 annual renewal fee.
In order to qualify for the licence an applicant needs a job, then the city does a background check and an employment and immigration status check.
Bruce Robertson, director of the city's licensing services, said the city's body-rub licences allow for the massage of clients' bodies, but not any sexual contact.
For a holistic practitioner, the application fee is $278 with a $173 annual renewal fee.
But unlike body rubbers, holistic practitioners must be certified with a diploma or certificate of qualification. They also must undergo a background check, as well as an employment and immigration status check.
The fee to open a holistic centre is $243 with a $133 annual renewal cost.
Currently there are 400 licensed holistic centres — with no limit on the number of businesses — and 2,395 licensed holistic practitioners.
The city collects more than $900,000 annually from licence-renewal fees for these holistic and body-rub businesses and the people who work inside them.
An open secret
It's an open secret that sexual services are provided at many massage parlours and holistic centres, said Coun. Joe Mihevc. Some of the businesses are in his west-Toronto ward.
Mihevc said in an interview with CBC News that the massage parlours in the city are a bit of a moving target.
He suspects the explosive growth of holistic centres is just an easy way of circumventing the licence fees and other regulations governing massage parlours.
Mihevc was surprised to learn of the amount of money the city was making. "Wow. Wow," he said.
The councillor said he didn't think the bylaws and regulations had been examined in five or six years.
"I think it may be time to take a look, in light of what happened, to review the accrediting body," said Mihevc, and examine the certification process for people who work in holistic centres.
There is no evidence to suggest anything untoward happened at the Forget Me Not spa but city inspectors checked out the spa after receiving a handful of resident complaints about the business.
When inspectors arrived at the business in mid-July the spa "didn't appear to be operating," Roberston said. Zoning and bylaw officials found nothing improper, but noted they had trouble finding Liu at the spa.
"When our officers were able to speak to her she did inform them that she was in the process of selling her business," he said.