A City of Toronto committee has voted against lifting a cap on the number of body rub parlour licenses which is currently set at 25.
Instead, city municipal licensing and standards staff has been asked to look for other possible solutions to an issue raised by the auditor general, that potentially hundreds of businesses licensed as holistic centres are offering sexual services more appropriately-covered under a body rub parlour licence.
Toronto Councillor John Filion said the city needs to come up with some form of licensing system that separates the legitimate holistic practitioners, who provide a valuable service, from those who are besmirching their reputation by running a body rub parlour under the banner of a holistic centre.
“I do not support increasing the cap,” he said.
A staff report to the committee had asked for input on the possibility of removing the cap on body rub parlour licences and dropping entirely the requirement that holistic centres be licensed.
Staff had reported that businesses unable to get a body rub parlour licence under the hard cap were seeking licenses as holistic centres.
City staff plans to provide a final report later this year.
Toronto Councillor Stephen Holyday said it would make no sense to let staff pursue increasing the number of body rub parlour licences if the proposal had little chance of getting past council.
“This is giving the staff some certainty here that we’re not looking at dismantling the licensing of holistic centres… and we’re not looking at taking the cap off body rub parlours,” Holyday said.
His motion, adopted by the committee, does ask staff to look at a number of areas to improve worker and consumer safety.
The General Government and Licensing Committee heard from a long list of debutantes Tuesday on the controversial issue.
Casandra Diamond of the BridgeNorth Women’s Mentorship and Advocacy Service raised concerns about the existing system and the changes proposed by staff.
“What I personally witnessed were heinous acts being committed against my fellow human beings including acts of rape, sexual assault, robbery and other violent acts. ” Diamond said.
“The licensing system created a storefront that aided my trafficker, actually giving him the title of businessman and degraded my value as a human and as a woman to a mere object of trade.”
Other speakers said the problem of human trafficking was largely confined to body rub parlours.
Elene Tam of Butterfly — the Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network — said the majority of those employed in the industry are Asian and immigrant women who need the work to support their families.
While they want their labour rights protected, these workers have told them that they are not being trafficked, Tam said.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said a lot has changed since the current licensing regime for body rub parlours was first implemented in 1975, and the emphasis of a new system should be on workplace safety.
“Moving forward, there has to be a mature conversation around legitimate sex workers and ensuring that we de-stigmatize their work,” Wong-Tam said.