Critics attack proposed changes to bylaws governing Winnipeg's body rub parlours
'The City of Winnipeg is a pimp,' says advocate for exploited women and girls.
A report suggesting changes to how the City of Winnipeg regulates adult-oriented businesses such as body rub parlours has drawn withering criticism from advocates fighting against the exploitation of women and girls.
The criticism compelled councillors on the city's executive policy committee (EPC) to take a step back for a second look at what to do.
The report proposes the city reduce licence fees for practitioners and escorts to $25 from $371, and create a mandatory information session for those people and staff at the businesses.
The changes to the bylaw would also require a working closed-circuit TV system at reception areas, and panic alarms in all rooms used by body rub practitioners.
"[The] licensing of body rub parlours in Winnipeg is a key strategy for ensuring the health, safety, well-being, and protection of workers in these establishments. Licensing contributes to worker safety and enables the city to provide information (via a mandatory information session) to those workers which will focus on providing key resources for any worker wanting help or assistance in their specific circumstance," the report said.
The report was attacked with explicit language by those fighting trafficking and exploitation,
"The City of Winnipeg is a pimp and this approach makes it easier for other criminal pimps to become entrepreneurs," Diane Redsky told EPC members.
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Redsky, the executive director at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, is calling on the city to ban all forms of profiting off the sexual exploitation of primarily women, girls 2SLGBTQQIA+.
"I need you to understand that you are on a very slippery slope with the City of Winnipeg's approach to body rub – massage parlours. This slippery slope is under the guise of 'harm reduction' and is the first problem. This is a sneaky way to normalize violence against women and girls," Redsky said in her submission.
Joy Smith, a former MP and advocate against human trafficking, told EPC members body rub parlours and escort agencies are often used as fronts for trafficking in people and drugs, insurance fraud and money laundering.
"The licensing of these places — these so-called businesses — gives the impression our City of Winnipeg sanctions the abuse of women and girls," Smith said. "Everyone knows what goes on behind these walls, but no city has the courage to shut them down."
In an emotional plea to understand the effect of these businesses, outreach worker and mentor Melissa Stone spoke to councillors in blunt terms.
"When I speak about girls I'm talking about children as young as five years old who've been sold for money and used sexually by men on the streets, in rub parlours and escort agencies. Did you know this is called rape?"
Councillors were prepared to step back from some of the recommendations in the report.
EPC members chose to lay over the sections of the report on regulations for adult-oriented businesses for six months to get additional feedback.
Couns. Scott Gillingham (St. James) and Sherri Rollins (Fort-Rouge East Fort Garry) sponsored a motion for the delay and further study.
"This was some of the most compelling presentations in my time at city council," Gillingham said. "We need to heed what they, and others, are saying."
WATCH | City of Winnipeg looking for ways to regulate body rub parlours and escort agencies: