WINNIPEG — What started as a proposed change to a licensing bylaw is now a look at the city’s escort and body rub services.
Wednesday afternoon, the Executive Policy Committee discussed a report on regulating escorts and body rub parlours.
The report called for reduced licensing fees for body rub practitioners and escorts from $371 to $25 and requires them to take a class.
It also recommended making it mandatory to install security cameras in reception areas and panic buttons in rooms used by body rub practitioners.
However, the focus shifted after an emotional speech from outreach worker Melissa Stone.
“These agencies are not selling sex, they are selling child abuse. I’ll call it as it is; most of the girls are under the age of 18 and are children,” said Stone.
Stone shared graphic details of the sex trade learned during her 14 years as a community mentor at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc.
Stone’s comments on the sex trade made Councillor Scott Gillingham choke up.
“Your placement there is critical. You’re a light,” said Gillingham as he thanked Stone for her insight.
Former MP Joy Smith, who now advocates against human trafficking also spoke, telling the committee licensing body rub parlours and escort agencies allows for human trafficking and other crimes like money laundering.
“By licensing these body rub parlours and other adult businesses, our city is sanctioning the abuse of women, of young girls, and keeping the doors open for human traffickers,” said Smith, who is now president of the Joy Smith Foundation.
Councillor Gillingham and Councillor Sherri Rollins went into the meeting looking to scrap the proposed bylaw changes, instead sponsoring a motion for the delay and further examination.
“What this bylaw is a bylaw that was developed in conjunction with the police and not in conjunction with folks in the sex industry for instance,” said Rollins.
Rollins said the 52 currently licensed escorts in the city only represent a fraction of how many there are. She said the number is due to issues with policy and stigma rather than cost.
“We don’t do policy without talking first to the people most impacted. That’s escorts, body rub practitioners, that’s this section, adult-oriented businesses,” she said.
The city’s public service department will now have 180 days to collect feedback from the community.
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