A professional escort expects a new city proposal aiming to make her line of work safer will instead bring unwanted surveillance.
"(The changes) are about control, surveillance. And the bylaws invite police and bylaw officers into the lives of… sex workers, already stigmatized people," said Amy, a member of Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition, who did not want her last name published.
On Wednesday, city council’s executive policy committee will vote on a bylaw update that includes proposed changes for escorts and body rub practitioners, as well as businesses that employ them.
If given final approval by council, the changes would: reduce annual licence fees for individual body rub practitioners and escorts to $25 (from $371); implement a mandatory information session on police, health and social service resources; and add a new registration fee of $25 for staff at such businesses who are not licensed body rub practitioners or escorts. All changes would take effect Oct. 4.
By the same date, body rub parlours would be required to have a working closed-circuit television camera system in reception areas and to install panic alarms in all rooms used by body rub practitioners.
Amy believes the collection of rules perpetuates a view sex workers are both at risk themselves and a risk to others.
"We are lumped into this category of vulnerable yet predatory people. We are both victims and villains at the same time," she said Tuesday.
Unlike other businesses, Winnipeg escort agencies and body rub parlours can only get licences in the downtown area, though city staff are calling for that rule to be reviewed.
Amy said she fears the city bylaw, even after the proposed changes, would fall short on improving workers’ safety. She accused the city of failing to consult affected workers to determine the exact steps needed to reduce risks.
"I’m not saying that the cameras don’t keep people safe. I’m saying the people in those buildings should be consulted on whether or not they keep people safe," she said.
Last week, city spokesperson Joelle Schmidt said the changes were designed with safety in mind.
"Research and jurisdictional practices have indicated that CCTV, and alarms, are a best practice and heighten safety for staff," Schmidt said in an emailed statement.
Amy said she’s concerned it will instead add to surveillance of workers in these fields, since they’re required to provide photos of themselves, along with addresses and phone numbers, to obtain a licence. She chooses to operate without a licence instead.
She said worker safety is also compromised by existing rules that require licensed body rub parlour staff to work in rooms with doors that don’t lock.
"Who else is not able to lock their door in a business setting? That should shock anybody… What happens if there was a robbery or something had occurred in the business and people wanted to lock their doors?"
The industry would be better served if the city required only business owners to obtain licences, not every individual worker, Amy said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.