Winnipeg isn't ready to replace the term "massage parlour" with "body rub centre," according to a report that fails to smooth over the differences between the city and registered therapists.
On Thursday, city council's downtown, heritage and riverbank committee will consider a plan to consider "holistic medical establishments" a form of personal service under the Downtown Zoning Bylaw.
The same plan also puts off a request from licensed massage therapists to stop applying the term "massage parlour" to establishments that offer non-therapeutic services.
Winnipeg licenses four "massage parlours," which may only operate in the downtown portion of the city. They're not allowed to have anyone under 18 on the premises and staff must wear non-transparent clothing between the neck and 10 centimetres above the knee. Massage parlours also "must not state, imply or suggest the service provided includes any form of sexual or nude entertainment," according to city rules.
In September, George Fraser of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba asked the city to change the name of "massage parlour" to "sex-trade establishment" or "body rub shop." The term "massage parlour" demeans trained therapists and occasionally confuses customers who unwittingly patronize establishments offering services of a sexual nature, said Fraser, a former city councillor who now represents approximately 750 registered massage therapists.
A report published Friday said the city may consider changing "massage parlour" to "body rub" centre the next time it reviews the Downtown Zoning Bylaw. Many other Canadian cities have a "body rub" licensing category, planning manager Patti Regan writes in the report.
But she also recommends no change be made to the licence in the short term, other than differentiating "holistic medical establishments" from "massage parlours."
This move grew out of a 2011 concern raised by the owners of a King Street establishment called Bliss Body Works, who complained they were forced to label their business a "massage parlour" under city rules. Although they do not employ registered massage therapists, they insisted they do not offer sexual services on the premises.
Pending council approval, the "holistic medical establishment" designation would serve as a compromise for businesses that offer "physical external manipulation of the soft tissues of the human body" but don't want to be tagged with the sex-trade connotations of the "massage parlour" tag.
Anyone wishing to open a "holistic medical establishment" would not have to obtain a city licence as long as the owners can demonstrate oversight by a professional body of some sort, Regan writes.
The owners of Bliss Body Works did not respond to requests for comment. But Fraser panned the proposed change, claiming city zoning administrators don't have the expertise to determine which holistic-medicine governing bodies are credible.
He also expressed disappointment the city will wait for a zoning-bylaw review to consider changing the term "massage parlour" to something more explicit.
"I don't know how this is going to help that situation, quite frankly," he said, pointing to the recent case of a doctor accused of writing prescriptions for "massage parlour" employees who offered sexual services in return.
"We're quite sensitive of the reference to 'massage' as a front for sexual services."