'Significant human trafficking prevalent in Newmarket'
Town updating bylaw to reflect difference between body rub parlours and spas
Jan. 11, 2021
When is a spa a body rub parlour?
Basically, under the current outdated bylaw, right now in Newmarket.
Town officials are well aware of the difference between businesses providing legitimate massages versus rub and tugs, manager of regulatory services, Flynn Scott, said.
But because the bylaw didn’t reflect the growing popularity of spas, wellness centres and naturopaths when it was adopted in 2002, some are technically considered to be offering the same services as body rub parlours.
The bylaw classifies a body rub to be kneading, manipulating, rubbing, massaging, touching or stimulating a person’s body or any part thereof, not including medical or therapeutic treatment given by a qualified, licensed or registered professional with the province.
That’s a problem for businesses that don’t have a licensed professional on staff that are offering, for example, relaxation massages.
It’s also a problem for the town losing revenue because it can’t sell them business licences.
The town is now updating its bylaw to properly capture the difference between spas and body rub parlours, Scott said.
The new bylaw would strengthen language indicating body rub parlours include services that are sexual in nature.
“That’s the kind of cleanup we need to put in place in order to, really, catch up to the times and how business practices have evolved,” Scott said.
Because the Municipal Act allows municipalities to restrict but not ban businesses such as body rub parlours, Newmarket will look at how it will allow any to operate, Scott said.
The current bylaw allows for two body rub parlours to operate in the industrial northeast area of town.
Public consultation on the new bylaw will take place this winter, with new regulations expected by the end of June.
Operating under the town’s in-house ticket dispute process known as AMPS (Administrative Monetary Penalty System), rather than under the more cumbersome Provincial Offences Act, enforcement of new bylaw will be easier, Flynn said.
Over the last two years, Newmarket’s bylaw officers have laid charges against seven body rub parlours. Two of these locations have been charged twice for multiple offences simultaneously, Scott said.
The town continues to have open investigation files on four of the seven locations and will continue to investigate and enforce as necessary, he said.
The town is working with York Regional Police as it develops the new bylaw, Scott said.
“Based on our conversations with YRP, we have been made aware there is a significant human trafficking component to these body rub parlours and it is prevalent here in Newmarket,” he said.
Const. Laura Nicolle isn’t aware of any recent charges of human trafficking or other offences laid against Newmarket body rub parlours.
“However, we have seen it occur in the past throughout the region. We continue to encourage anyone with concerns, or who has information on suspected human trafficking or underage girls being forced into the sex trade, to please come forward and file a report,” she said, adding that can also be done anonymously through Crime Stoppers.
Janice Moro is managing director of BridgeNorth, a Newmarket agency working to bring an end of sexual exploitation in Canada.
“Human trafficking is the worst form of gender-based violence on the planet … Whenever you are forced or put in a position where you have to do a sex act and it’s not consensual, it’s sexual violence,” she said.
“Current rules (in municipalities) proliferate human trafficking because they are too lax.”
While there is a public perception body rub workers provide sexual services willingly, they are often vulnerable people such as those who are racialized, poor, dealing with substance abuse and don’t know their rights as workers, Moro said.
Research shows 93 per cent of trafficked women in Canada are Canadian citizens and more than 70 per cent are under the age of 25, she said.
Indigenous women and girls are at even greater risk.