Edmonton

Councillors contemplate 'exit strategy' on licensing body rub parlours

After more than 20 years of licensing body rub parlours in Edmonton, and three years after the establishment of a city task force designed to make the industry safer, a council committee on Wednesday took a step away from that model.

Advocates say establishments exploit women and city should have no involvement

The body rub centres task force went into action in fall 2016. (CBC)

After more than 20 years of licensing body rub parlours in Edmonton, and three years after the establishment of a city task force designed to make the industry safer, a council committee took a step away from that model on Wednesday.

A report "on the merits of a five-year exit strategy on licensing body rub centres" was requested at the community and public services committee.

The motion also asked for information on education campaigns about the effects of sex work on women.

The motion was passed after a lengthy conversation in committee chambers on Wednesday. Members of several groups that fight against the sexual exploitation of women argued the licensing system is a tacit endorsement of such abuse.

"If our goal is to create a healthier society, decrease violence against women, encourage health among men, and help our children grow up knowing fully what consent is, what exploitation is, what human trafficking is, then we have to talk about it," said Kate Quinn, executive director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).

"That's what city council did today. They moved us to a new kind of conversation."

Harm reduction approach for past 3 years

The discussion arose after an annual report was released from the body rub centres task force implementation team. The group started work in 2016, with a mandate to implement a harm reduction approach to the industry. 

The report states there are 32 licensed body rub establishments in Edmonton, 322 licensed body rub practitioners and 79 independent licensed escorts. 

Task force members have visited establishments, checked for licences, and looked for compliance with directives regarding safety and emergencies. They also ensure practitioners have information about social services or pathways out of the industry.

Quinn acknowledged the city has done good work in "reducing some of the harm in body rub parlours." 

"We have to confront the harm that continues and why it continues," she added.

Coun. Bev Esslinger, who put forward the motion, said the topic is "complex" and the city has to strike the "right balance."

"There's lots of discomfort. Is that the field we should be in as a city? Should we not be? Should we be focusing more on the demand or what's causing it? Are there different ways to approach it," she said.

"That's where we'd like to go, to say, 'Could we look at getting out of this business of licensing?'"

The administration report is due in 2020.