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Prostitution law may help Barrie act on body rub spas
March 13, 2015
By Laurie Watt

With Canada’s changing prostitution laws, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman isn’t sure licensing body rub parlours, as some other municipalities do, is the right way to go.

A lot has changed since the 1990s, when the City of Vaughan began licensing body rubs in a bid to stop them from popping up throughout the city. Although it capped them at 20, Vaughan now has only two body rub parlours, both located in an industrial area near railyards and a strip club.

Licensing them gives the city several tools to control the businesses, Vaughan bylaw and compliance director Gus Michaels said.

“Like an adult entertainment parlour, this is something that caters to an erotic appetite. You can regulate, restrict the number and where. You don’t want them locating next to schools.”

Prompted by growing concerns, Vaughan began licensing body rub parlours.

“It’s not an outright ban. It gives you control and a right to inspect,” said Michaels, adding city staff inspect annually at licence renewal time and conduct random inspections to ensure compliance or lay charges under zoning and licensing laws.

(Vaughan’s bylaw also includes provisions about state of undress and operating hours, however those regulations prompted an appeal that is now before the courts.)

Barrie has an outright ban, but that hasn’t stopped body rub parlours from popping up and then quickly closing when talk about what’s going on heats up. There were two just a few blocks from Barrie Central Collegiate that have now closed.

Lehman said the city should consider licensing as an option once the new federal law on prostitution is tried and tested.

“Once it is clear what the new law of the land will be on prostitution, Barrie should look at all options to prevent illegal spas, particularly in residential areas. That might be revised zoning. It might be revised business licensing, but for the moment, Barrie’s position is that these spas are not legal,” he said.

Last December, the new law went into effect, a year after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on running a bawdy house.

The new law, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, focuses more on buyers than sellers. It assists sex trade workers get out of the trade should they desire.

Vaughan’s Michaels said human trafficking is a police issue.

“Municipal staff have some limits. If we have concerns about human trafficking, we’d work with the police,” Michaels added. “You look at human trafficking, employees may not be there by choice. In Vaughan, that hasn’t been an issue, although it’s been a global issue.”

Although Barrie bans body rub parlours, it licenses adult entertainment parlours and those who strip in them. The strip clubs are allowed in commercial and general industrial zones.

However, body rub parlours refer to themselves as spas to fit in the holistic medicine category. Such businesses are permitted in residential areas as well as commercial ones.

Having one registered massage therapist (RMT) on staff - not necessarily on duty - allows it to be a holistic business and, therefore, legal.

The situation has prompted complaints from the Barrie Downtown Neighbourhoods Association and others.

“They’ve solved our immediate concern. They closed down two. They reaffirmed (another) has an RMT on staff. That’s as far as the city can go,” the BDNA’s Jack Garner said.

“What I’ve heard indirectly is it’s a massage parlour. We asked the city and the police to proactively keep their eyes and ears open.”

Garner said the BDNA would like to rid the city of body rub parlours that masquerade as spas.

“We do not want them in the city of Barrie,” he said. “They do not tie into the moral and social environment in this city and we shouldn’t have them.”