Nova Scotia

N.S. lags behind much of Canada in massage therapy regulations

Regulating massage therapy in Nova Scotia would ensure practitioners could easily work across the country as well as in hospitals and health care centres, say those calling for the work to be classified as a health profession.

Five provinces give Colleges of Massage Therapists authority to vet and discipline members

British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador all regulate massage therapy. (Robert Short/CBC)

Despite being a massage instructor himself, Stephen Jay ended up back in the classroom studying his own field when he moved from Halifax to Vancouver.

He had worked as a massage therapist in Nova Scotia for more than a decade but his education and training weren't enough to be recognized by the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia when he made the move west in 2011.

Jay still had to take additional courses and challenge the provincial board exam that has both written and hands-on components. The process took months. 

"I didn't have an elastic mind at 40 years old and 10 years in," he said with a laugh. "Getting back into that scholastic process after so much time had its challenges."   

Those challenges included the lack of income while he waited for the certification he would have already possessed if Nova Scotia regulated the field.

The provinces which do have regulations are New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario and British Columbia.

Stephen Jay now works in Vancouver, where the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia sets the standards of practice. (Submitted by Stephen Jay)

Regulating massage therapy in Nova Scotia would ensure practitioners could easily work across the country as well as in hospitals and health care centres, according to those calling for the work to be classified as a health profession.

Although it's been discussed for decades, Nova Scotia doesn't have legislation to oversee massage therapy. People don't need a licence to call themselves a massage therapist and there is no oversight body with the power to revoke a licence in the event of public complaints or findings of abuse.

Earlier this week, a CBC News investigation highlighted the case of Martin Huybers, a trained massage therapist facing nine sexual assault charges, who is continuing to work while he awaits trial.

A College of Massage Therapists could act on those types of public complaints, said Amy-Lynne Graves, president of the Massage Therapists Association of Nova Scotia. Legislation would also bring the province in line with the rest of Atlantic Canada.

"Because we are the only unregulated province in the Maritimes, it's very much limiting the scope of practice and the migration of the individual therapists," she said. 

MTANS represents nearly 1,100 members who have provided a criminal record check, reference letters, and certificate or diploma program from a school offering 2,200 hours of experience. They are entry requirements modelled after regulated provinces, Graves said.

But as Jay experienced, massage therapists from Nova Scotia who move to a regulated province still face roadblocks. Writing a board exam costs around $1,500 and the tests are usually only offered twice a year, which can mean a months-long wait to be approved to work.

"It delays you getting back into the working field," Jay said. In his case, he said savings and a supportive partner eased the financial strain.

Jenn Stuart is the executive director of the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in Halifax. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Jenn Stuart, executive director of the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in Halifax, said she often advises graduates who may wish to work out of province to write an exam in a regulated province while the material is fresh. They can register as an inactive member in the event they want to move later. 

Though Stuart said there's no shortage of work here, recognizing massage therapy as a self-regulating health professional alongside fields, such as nursing and physiotherapy, could also open up more opportunities. 

In provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia, massage therapists are able to work in public health centres. In Nova Scotia, some massage therapists volunteer their time to treat cancer patients and their families at the Sunshine Room in the Victoria General hospital but the Nova Scotia Health Authority doesn't offer any staff positions. 

"That aspect of touch and ... physical manipulation of tissue is something that we're really specialists in and that's missing from the big picture of health care for a lot of patients," Stuart said. "There's not many health providers that spend as much time with the patient that we do and in a hands-on capacity."

Massage therapy became regulated in Prince Edward Island on March 1, making Nova Scotia the last province in Atlantic Canada without legislation. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Regulation is "way past due" in Nova Scotia, Stuart said, primarily because it helps ensure the protection of patients who trust massage therapists  to care for them.

"Every year, we seem to have more and more examples of why it's really necessary," she said. "The point is to elevate the whole profession up to a certain standard."

The Massage Therapists Association of Nova Scotia and three other professional associations that represent therapists here are working on a legislative proposal for the province to consider. 

On Tuesday, Health Minister Randy Delorey said the Department of Health and Wellness will consider any request for self regulation but cautioned passing new legislation takes time. 

Jay supported early efforts to push for regulation back in 2003 when legislation was passed — but never became law — in Nova Scotia.

CBC reporter Elizabeth McMillan explains what she learned about massage therapy regulation in Nova Scotia and how the absence of certain laws can affect you. 1:29

He said for years people in the industry were told to be patient. But the initial bill was shelved after an election call and subsequent governments didn't pick it back up.

"After 20 years of regulation in provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, and now a few years in behind the other Atlantic provinces ... it's a bit past ridiculous," he said. "I think it's time for massage therapists to take that power back into their hands and speak up for what they know and they deserve." 

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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