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'Very difficult to survive already': Newmarket massage worker worries about impact of new bylaw

Saying she is not a sex worker, Ivy Chan is concerned about her ability to support her family if she has to provide proof of training

Ivy Chan said she is worried about her livelihood as Newmarket prepares to crack down on body rub parlours.

Speaking through a translator, Chan said she has been working at a parlour for several years in Newmarket. She said she has learned to do facial, head and neck massages, but does not do the sex work more explicitly banned in the town’s effort to regulate and license alternative massage services.

Chan said she is concerned about the proof of training the bylaw might require, once public health restrictions lift. 

“My family is very poor,” Chan said. “It is already very difficult. I really want, after COVID, if the business is open, to start working immediately.” 

The bylaw requires what it calls personal wellness establishments — any operation offering alternate massages not by a registered massage therapist — to provide certain information to be permitted to operate, such as floor plans, details on workers, and proof workers have trained through a course at a registered post-secondary institution.

There is a clause in the current draft bylaw, which is before council today for approval, that workers with training not available from an institution should provide evidence of that to the municipality for approval. This is meant to capture training and expertise from non-Western cultures.

But Chan said she received much of her training on the job. She said she does not think she can provide documentation to prove her expertise, and the language barrier may be an issue.

“This process is very problematic,” she said. 

“I want the town to not oppress us,” Chan said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic is already limiting the work they can do. “Very difficult to survive already."

The controversial bylaw is being discussed at a special meeting today, June 16, with 11 deputations, including Chan, due to present. 

The proposed has come under criticism from advocacy groups who said the measure will unfairly discriminate against Asian parlour workers, both those who do sex work and those who do not.

Other organizations such as the Council of Women Against Sex Trafficking in York Region have pushed to shut down body rub parlours, arguing they are sites for human trafficking.

Some Newmarket council members have said the measures will help drive out sex work, which is illegal under federal law.

“We are not trying to do anything more than clearly prohibit and fine illegal sexual activity,” Mayor John Taylor said in a June 16 Facebook comment. “The law is clear — we just want a bylaw that is strong enough to enforce the law.” 

But in Chan’s case, she said she is neither a victim of human trafficking, nor a sex worker. She said although she and her family had misgivings about the business when she got into it, it has worked out well for her. 

“The owners treat me quite well. They share the profit. I have lots of freedom, and I feel very happy," Chan said. 

NewmarketToday will provide an updated story on the next steps for the bylaw following today's meeting.

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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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