TWO organizations are urging the city to stop licensing escort agencies and body rub parlours altogether, alleging the government is otherwise profiting from exploitation.
"Simply put, in the way that I see this… City of Winnipeg, you’re being a pimp right now," said Diane Redsky, executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, whose work includes combating sexual exploitation.
In a blunt presentation to council’s executive policy committee on Wednesday, Redsky accused the businesses of exploiting females, which she said is based on experiences shared by those her organization supports.
Redsky said the city’s practice of offering licences to these "adult-oriented businesses" perpetuates that problem.
The city is considering updating its bylaw on escorts and body rub practitioners, as well as businesses that employ them. If given final approval by council, the proposed changes would: reduce annual licence fees for individual body rub practitioners and escorts to $25 from $371; implement a mandatory information session for their staff on police, health and social service resources; and add a new registration fee of $25 for staff at those businesses who are not licensed body rub practitioners or escorts. All of those changes would take effect on Oct. 4.
By the same date, body rub parlours would be required to have a working closed-circuit television camera system in their reception areas and install panic alarms in all rooms used by body rub practitioners.
Joy Smith, who runs the Joy Smith Foundation to combat human trafficking, said she’s heard from multiple women who report they were exploited at such businesses.
"By licensing these body rub parlours and other adult-oriented businesses, our city is sanctioning the abuse of women and young girls and keeping the door open to human traffickers," said Smith.
Both women urged the city to immediately stop licensing the businesses.
Mayor Brian Bowman said he is concerned about the potential impact of the companies.
"We obviously want to manage concerns about potential or real exploitation in our community but we also want to ensure that any regulation is appropriate," said Bowman.
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) expressed concern that those working in the industry haven’t been consulted, some of whom opposed being labelled as vulnerable and stressed they value their work.
"When I (spoke) with (Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition), they were not consulted… people who in part wanted to tell me the story of how they enjoy their jobs," said Rollins.
On Wednesday evening, the executive policy committee voted to remove all recommendations and content related to body rub parlours and escort agencies from the report to allow for more consultation, while unrelated changes to other businesses move forward. City staff would be expected to report back on the adult-oriented businesses in about six months.
However, council is still set to cast the final vote on the matter.
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.