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Massage parlours rub therapists wrong way

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Manitoba's registered massage therapists would like the City of Winnipeg to stop applying the term "massage parlour" to establishments that don't offer therapeutic services.

The Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba is proposing the city use the term "sex-trade establishment" to apply to a handful of downtown businesses licensed as massage parlours.

"It's about time we got candid. That's what it is," said association executive director George Fraser, who appeared before council's downtown, heritage and riverbank committee on Monday.

The term "massage parlour" demeans trained therapists and occasionally confuses customers who unwittingly patronize establishments offering services of a sexual nature, said Fraser, a city councillor from 1989 to 1995 who now represents approximately 750 registered massage therapists.

Other Canadian cities use the term "adult entertainment establishment" or "rub shop" instead of "massage parlour" to apply to certain businesses, he said. Following suit in Winnipeg could reduce complaints from customers who've been solicited at "massage parlours" and help prevent the sex trade from operating under the guise of therapeutic services, he added.

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 November, the owner of a new King Street establishment called Bliss Body Works complained to the downtown committee he was forced to label his business a massage parlour.

In response, city staff prepared a report recommending the creation of a new "holistic medical establishment" category. Fraser appeared before council's downtown committee to oppose the idea, claiming it could be used as a cover for businesses offering medically questionable services or illicit sex.

He asked the city to consult with registered massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other therapeutic professionals about the new designation, as the province is in the midst of setting up a regulatory regime for therapeutic services.

The downtown committee -- Couns. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert), Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) and Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) -- voted unanimously to give city staff another three months to consider the new designation.

Bliss Body Works is eager to lose the "massage parlour" label it says was foisted upon it by the city.

"We do not offer sexual services on our premises," said Inga MacKenzie, one of the partners in the operation, noting she has fired several staff who engaged in inappropriate behaviour. "We're following the letter of the law, as outlined by city hall."

The services on offer at Bliss Body Works include acupunture, reiki and "tantric relaxation massage," which MacKenzie describes as a full-body massage that utilizes breathing and meditation. "Some clients leave here angry because they think they're going to be getting something else," she said.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

what's in a name? b1

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2012 A4

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