Edmonton council advised to lower fees for adult massage parlours

Edmonton city councillors are being advised to lower or eliminate fees for body rub practitioners, escorts and exotic entertainers in the city.

'It is illegal to buy sex. When our city licenses them, we say OK,' says body rub centre opponent

There are 34 licensed body rub centres in Edmonton and at least two the city knows of that are unlicensed. (CBC)

Edmonton city councillors are being advised to lower or eliminate fees for body rub practitioners, escorts and exotic entertainers in the city.

City staff are asking council to approve a revamped licensing fee system, which would see workers in these industries pay nothing, compared to the current $230-a-year fee to practise in Edmonton.

A report presented to the community services committee on Monday also suggests lowering the fee for a body rub business from $777 to $607.

The findings are based in part on a 2015 report by the Body Rub Centres Task Force, which determined lower fees would "reduce barriers" for practitioners to participate in the regulated system.

"The city's concern is without licensed body rub facilities, we drive the industry underground where it's harder to find," said Coun. Scott McKeen

He said the task force determined women would be safer in a regulated environment.

"By underground, I mean unsupervised — woman working alone, more under threat,"

But regulating the industry is against the law, argued one woman who's keeping an eye on the proposed changes to the city bylaw.

"It is illegal to buy sex," Susan Holtby told the committee Monday. "When our city licences them, we say OK."

The city has issued licences for 355 active body rub practitioners and 34 body rub centres in Edmonton.

"It is not the oldest profession, it's the oldest oppression," Holtby said.

Susan Holtby, a women's rights advocate, takes issue with the city giving out licences to body rub centres. (CBC)

"We are rising up and saying we do not need to accept this anymore." 

Jonathan Kuyt, the owner of a south-end body rub centre, addressed the committee Monday.

He opposes the idea of reducing fees and wants the city to treat them like any other business.

"It's not going anywhere," he said of the industry.

"For people to sit here and think that this trade — or whatever you want to call it — is going to go away because we change certain laws, you're wrong."

He said the best thing to do is control the industry.

"Run this like a business and it will act as a business," he told the committee.

He said treating body rub practitioners differently is putting them at risk, adding that he disagrees with the idea that the women in the regulated industry are exploited.

"You put them on the fringes, you put them on the outside."

Kuyt said his body rub parlour is safe with locked doors, cameras and regulated hours. He said the police come by to inspect it once every couple months. 

The city would lose $160,000 in licensing revenues if council agrees to lower and eliminate fees for the industry.

Kuyt said the city should use that money to target the illegal pimps he said he has seen online and in condo advertisements.

City council will debate the proposed amendments at a meeting next week.