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Newmarket's bid to ban body rub parlours is discriminatory: Asian sex workers

Advocacy group calls measure "racist"
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Advocacy groups are preparing to lobby Newmarket council on its controversial new massage parlour bylaw.

Council will meet tomorrow, June 16, at 1 p.m. to discuss the bylaw, which would introduce a new licensing framework for “personal wellness establishments” —any facility providing massage services by people other than registered massage therapists. Councillors are due to receive 11 deputations on the bylaw, in addition to other submissions from the public.

The bylaw would also prohibit any sexual activity at these businesses, as well as require evidence of training of workers. This has led to groups such as Butterfly — a Toronto-based support network for Asian and migrant sex workers — protesting the bylaw.

“This is systematic racism created in the policy,” Butterfly executive director Elene Lam said. “Sex workers are human. Basically, they should not be discriminated against. What the mayors and other councillors do is promote the hate of sex work, the discrimination of sex workers.”

Mayor John Taylor and Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh spoke at a meeting on the bylaw in May about pushing out sex work with the new rules. In addition to prohibiting the activity at these establishments, it would require additional information, including floor plans, names of workers and proof of education in the field from an accredited post-secondary institution.

An update of the bylaw up for discussion tomorrow includes a clause that workers can get approved to do alternative massages without a course from a licensed Canadian institution.They would have to submit information about their training to the satisfaction of the municipality, an accommodation for workers who have training from other cultures.

However, Lam said alternate information could prove difficult to provide, with many Asian massage workers — including those who do not perform sex work —receiving training from other countries or on the job. She added some who may not speak English well could struggle to provide that information.

"Most of the Asian massage parlours will be shut down because they are not able to meet the requirements," Lam said.

But the bylaw also has proponents who agree with the municipal position. Twenty submitted comments have been provided by residents separate from deputations, most of which expressed approval for the municipality’s direction.

Other organizations such as the Council of Women Against Sex Trafficking in York Region are also due to present and have pushed again the massage parlours out of concern for human trafficking that may happen there. Though Butterfly argues that characterization is inaccurate.

The meeting, which will feature the deputations and a council decision on the next steps for the bylaw, will be broadcasted live on the municipal website.

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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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