‘IT’S ORGANIZED CRIME, FOLKS’ City targets thinlyveiled sex spas
Toronto council is asking the provincial government to give it stronger licensing powers to deal with rub and tugs and other shady businesses.
Several councillors told a city council meeting on Wednesday constituents regularly complain about establishments that profess to be holistic centres or other operations for the purpose of obtaining a business licence, but then offer sexual services.
The existing bylaw enforcement regime is overworked; inspectors lack authority to enter some businesses like rooming houses; and the courts and enforcement process move slowly, council heard.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said when zoning requirements are met, the city is obliged to hand out business licences and can only slap a moratorium on a few enterprises like strip clubs and taxis. The province doesn’t even let the city put conditions on liquor licences, he said.
Mammoliti proposed that Toronto ask the provincial government for the authority to restrict the issuance of business licences, giving the city a means to strike at the illegal sex trade.
A key target would be holistic spas that are believed to be a front for prostitution.
“It’s organized crime, folks,” Mammoliti said of the rub and tugs.
The city does have the power to shut down rogue operators but the resources of the city’s municipal licensing department have been drained by the Uber-taxi spat, Councillor James Pasternak said.
Councillor Frances Nunziata said the city can pass all kinds of bylaws, but it won’t make a difference.
“If we can’t enforce it because we don’t have the tools to enforce it, we’re wasting our time,” she said.
Nunziata said several problem businesses in her west-end ward continue to operate while charges languish for four or five years in the courts.
Council also considered the issue of licensed restaurants that either evolve into dance clubs at night, or are really in the business of being a nightclub.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-tam said a new night economy is emerging in the entertainment sector of Toronto, adding the city is “becoming a bit of a 24-hour city.”
While it’s important to ensure businesses aren’t impacting the quality of life in residential neighbourhoods, the city also wants to encourage innovation and the arts, she said.