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Sex work in massage parlours rubs Newmarket councillors wrong way

‘I think we really just want to drive it out of our town, quite frankly,’ says deputy mayor during meeting to discuss updating current bylaw
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Here’s the rub: Newmarket is taking a stand against allowing erotic massage in the municipality.

During Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, councillors heard 15 deputations and received four items of correspondence on the issue of body rub parlours in Newmarket. Currently, the town is considering a new bylaw as the current one is seen by many to negatively impact legal businesses such as health spas.

“I don’t want to send a message to our community that prostitution or sex work is acceptable,” said Mayor John Taylor. “I don’t want to send that message to my daughter. I don’t want to send that message to the youth of our community. I think we should take a strong position.”

During Monday’s meeting, councillors voted unanimously to direct staff to scrap the body rub parlour definition entirely and replace it with a new "personal wellness centre" classification. Language was added to the motion that this would include a full prohibition on any business related to sexual activity.

Under this model, anyone who wants to open a massage business of any kind needs to have some kind of training. Anyone who can't meet those requirements would not be able to get a business licence, and there would need to be a vigorous vetting process to stop unqualified businesses from attempting to sneak into this classification.

Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh talked about the argument being made that taking this action would drive the sex trade underground.

“I think we really just want to drive it out of our town, quite frankly,” said Vegh. “I don’t think it’s consistent with the values of our town.”

The definition of a "body rub parlour" under the current bylaw, which was passed in 2002, is considered by some to be too broad. Under Newmarket's current bylaw, any business that provides massages by someone who is not a provincially licensed massage therapist is deemed a body rub parlour.

The problem is that this definition lumps in wellness centres and holistic practitioners, such as estheticians or Reiki practitioners, with businesses that provide erotic massages.

During the meeting, 15 different parties provided deputations, ranging from Newmarket business owners concerned that their legitimate businesses would be affected, to former victims of human trafficking, representatives from agencies against human trafficking, advocates for sex worker rights, advocates for HIV awareness and advocates for anti-racism initiatives.

Some spoke in favour of adding regulations to protect workers, or against regulations that could potentially cause harm.

While multiple councillors thanked all the deputants for sharing their knowledge on the subject, Taylor cautioned that some of the points and suggestions made were beyond the purview of one municipal government.

“The issues that are being raised are ones that need to be raised at a legal and federal level,” he said.

Now that council has provided a general direction, staff will work with stakeholders to draft a bylaw to be presented to councillors at a future time.

— with files from Alan S. Hale



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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features.
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