Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The bylaw needs to be massaged

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A city hall bylaw stipulates that so-called massage parlours must not "state, imply or suggest" that staff will get naked and work their customers into a sexual frenzy. The bylaw, however, has never stopped the trade in sexual services because pretty much everyone who steps across the threshold knows what they're really buying, and that might involve something like a massage. More like a rub.

Everyone, that is, except the poor naif who actually comes looking for the professional care of a trained therapist whose manipulations of knotted muscles bring healing to those in pain.

They are deceived by the city's business permit that applies the inoffensive, legally acceptable term massage parlour to establishments that have only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

No bylaw is required to ensure massage therapists keep their clothes on, or do not wear "transparent" garb from neck to knees.

The bylaw, of course, is a polite fiction forced upon the city, the trade and citizens to skirt Canada's counter-productive prostitution laws, which don't actually make the selling of sex illegal.

After repeat reforms intended to target the exploiters, not the exploited, prostitution laws aim to punish the johns who buy, the chicken hawks who prey on, the pimps who make money from, and the "bawdy house" owners who corral prostitutes. And yet prostitution flourishes, most evidently on the dark and dangerous margins of society.

The real fix requires the Harper government to bow to court decisions that acknowledge the fact decriminalizing prostitution, allowing municipalities to regulate it, will better protect sex-trade workers and protect the community from the nefarious side-effects of the trade when it encroaches upon neighbourhoods and commercial strips.

The federal government, however, has signalled it has no intention of giving up the fight.

In the meantime, city council should concede the obvious, rename the permit to reflect this is "adult entertainment," perhaps tighten up on inspections to add a layer of oversight.

But it should quickly end the fallacy that insults patrons, citizens, the bewildered naif and, most of all, professionally trained therapists whose skill deserves exclusive rights to call it what it is -- massage.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2012 A10

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