A new City of Winnipeg proposal calls for council to reduce some licensing fees for those who work as escorts and at body rub parlours.
It would also require security cameras and panic alarms to be installed at the parlours.
While a city report predicts the changes would heighten safety, it’s not clear if council will approve them, since two councillors quickly opposed the plan for different reasons.
Specifically, the proposal calls to: reduce annual licence fees for individual body rub practitioners and escorts to $25 (from $371); implement a mandatory information session for 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 which would take effect Oct. 4.
New security measures would become mandatory on the same date for body rub parlours, requiring them to have a working closed-circuit television camera system in the reception areas. Panic alarms would also have to be installed in all rooms used by practitioners.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of the protection committee, said she will attempt to have the section on the two "adult-oriented businesses" removed from the report, which also offers changes for other industries.
Rollins said she’s concerned the report characterizes escorts and body rub parlour practitioners as inherently vulnerable, which doesn’t match feedback she’s received from the industry.
"Right off the hop here, (the report) really draws a line (connecting) escort and vulnerable person… The way they have grouped and characterized this whole business is not something I’ll be able to support," she said.
The councillor said she fears the changes could actually lead fewer businesses to apply for a city licence, leaving more unregulated.
"Is this going to result in more people applying for a licence? I think the answer is no. Is this going to connote safety for those in the industry? I think the answer is no."
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.
Affected business owners who fail to add the cameras or alarms could face a $300 fine. If the changes are approved, city staff would also review zoning restrictions that currently allow the adult-oriented businesses to be licensed only in the downtown area.
Coun. Scott Gillingham said he also plans to vote against the changes for those two types of businesses, which would require council approval, over his concerns about the industry.
Gillingham said the city’s decision to provide licences "to businesses where the purchase of sexual services is known to occur" could have legal implications.
"The fundamental question I have, or struggle with, is that by the city providing a licence, is the city validating the environment to which some people may be exploited?" said Gillingham.
Council’s executive policy committee is expected to cast the first vote on the proposed changes June 16.
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.