Many il­le­gal body-rub par­lours hide in plain sight in mid­town

City coun­cil could triple the num­ber of busi­nesses li­censed to of­fer erotic ser­vices later this month

Bayview Post - - News -

A neon sign with the sil­hou­ette of a wo­man posed se­duc­tively over­top of the words “Minx Spa” can be eas­ily spot­ted by passersby on the south­west cor­ner of Duf­ferin Street and Wil­son Av­enue. It’s a spa, but not in the tra­di­tional sense: the par­lour is ac­tu­ally one of 25 busi­nesses across Toronto li­censed by the city to of­fer ser­vices that “ap­peal to erotic or sex­ual ap­petites.”

In Fe­bru­ary, City of Toronto staff are ex­pected to re­port back to City Coun­cil on the fea­si­bil­ity of in­creas­ing the num­ber of li­cences granted to so-called body-rub par­lours in Toronto. Staff were also in­structed to look into ac­quir­ing ad­di­tional equip­ment and hir­ing more staff to over­see reg­u­la­tion and en­force­ment of the cur­rent by­laws. One op­tion out­lined by staff in De­cem­ber sug­gested al­low­ing an ad­di­tional 53 li­cences to off­set the cost of reg­u­la­tion.

The in­crease is in­tended to pre­vent il­le­gal and un­li­censed op­er­a­tions, of­ten mas­querad­ing as holis­tic cen­tres, from sprout­ing up in un­sus­pect­ing res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods.

A holis­tic cen­tre — which is de­fined by the city as a place of­fer­ing ser­vices that fo­cus on well­ness of the body, mind, spirit and emo­tions, such as reiki, aro­mather­apy and mas­sage ther­apy — re­quires a li­cens­ing fee of $270, with an an­nual re­newal fee of $148. By com­par­i­son, a body-rub par­lour li­cence costs $13,102, with an an­nual re­newal fee of $12,660, and em­ploy­ees must sub­mit to a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion.

Body-rub par­lour premises are zoned to in­dus­trial ar­eas, away from schools, places of wor­ship and pry­ing eyes, whereas holis­tic cen­tres may oc­cupy res­i­den­tially and com­mer­cially zoned neigh­bour­hoods.

A re­port by Toronto’s au­di­tor gen­eral in Oc­to­ber 2017 found at least 107 of the city’s 410 holis­tic cen­tres were pro­vid­ing a range of “unau­tho­rized” sex­ual ser­vices.

Post City found sev­eral holis­tic cen­tres in mid­town that ap­peared to ad­ver­tise sex­ual or erotic ser­vices on­line. Some of these busi­nesses are lo­cated on Mount Pleas­ant near Eglin­ton Av­enue East, near Yonge Street and Dav­isville Av­enue or on Bathurst Street near Lawrence Av­enue West.

Coun­cil­lor Joe Mi­hevc, of Ward 21, St. Paul’s West, said in­creas­ing the num­ber of body-rub li­cences is in the city’s best in­ter­est.

“By re­mov­ing the cap on body-rub par­lours, we hope and be­lieve that [the hid­den and unau­tho­rized] body-rub par­lours can be what they want to be and then shift their lo­cale,” he said.

One client of a li­censed par­lour, who spoke to Post City, re­quest­ing anonymity, said ev­ery­thing about his ex­pe­ri­ence was above board. He said that the women work­ing in the first par­lour he at­tended were com­mu­nica­tive and ex­pec­ta­tions were laid out clearly. A touch screen en­abled him to choose his masseuse and while she did not of­fer sex, he in­di­cated some masseuses do at var­i­ous rates and that any­thing “ex­tra” — nu­dity, client touch­ing or bod­ily con­tact — came with a fee. The fa­cil­ity was clean, had show­ers for the clients and was de­void of any men­ac­ing, “pimp-like” fig­ures, he said.

His first visit was borne out of cu­rios­ity, but he has since at­tended dif­fer­ent li­censed and un­li­censed par­lours –– ac­cord­ing to him, over 20 times.

“I know many guys that have been to a body-rub par­lour, and I know a lot more guys that have never been,” he said. “It’s also a place that a lot of mar­ried men at­tend and sort of blurs the line be­tween ac­cept­able monogamy and cheat­ing.”

He said the num­ber of fraud­u­lent cen­tres iden­ti­fied by the au­di­tor gen­eral sounded low, and that the pos­si­ble in­crease in li­cences granted to body-rub par­lours is a sign of the times.

“There’s sim­ply fewer law­mak­ers that would be against this kind of thing,” he said.

Coun­cil­lor Mi­hevc, who is also the chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said the in­crease would help fur­ther en­sure that the women work­ing in body-rub par­lours do so in a safe and clean en­vi­ron­ment.

Jenn Cla­men, of the Cana­dian Al­liance for Sex Work Law Re­form, noted that the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of sex has ex­isted for cen­turies and crim­i­nal­iz­ing it puts the work­ers at a dis­ad­van­tage.

“When you have a con­text of crim­i­nal­ity, it al­lows ex­ploita­tion to flour­ish be­cause there is no re­course,” Cla­men said. “De­spite what peo­ple think, there is a fun­da­men­tal right that needs to be re­spected, and that’s the health and safety of sex work­ers.”

She also ar­gued that iso­lat­ing body-rub par­lours in the out­skirts of the city won’t en­cour­age un­sanc­tioned ones to pur­chase a li­cence as many op­er­a­tors would likely fear the draw­back of hav­ing so much com­pe­ti­tion nearby.

“[Sex work] will con­tinue to hap­pen. Rel­e­gat­ing it to a zone or wish­ing it away isn’t ef­fec­tive,” Cla­men said. “You wouldn’t put all the nail sa­lons or McDon­alds in the same zone.”

Coun­cil­lor James Paster­nak of Ward 10, York Cen­tre, has sev­eral li­censed body-rub par­lours in his rid­ing and is against re­mov­ing the cap. Paster­nak said a re­cent town hall on the is­sue brought out 50 to 60 peo­ple, many with out­spo­ken com­plaints about un­li­censed body-rub par­lours oper­at­ing near schools and res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

“Un­til we have the ‘Wild West’ of il­le­gal op­er­a­tors [con­tained], we can’t open more,” Paster­nak said. “We should be re­view­ing body-rub rules as well. I think we need a whole­sale re­view of those poli­cies and en­force­ment, which is the only way to reg­u­late and clean up this mess.”

“It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect our neigh­bour­hood and our school-aged chil­dren,” he added.

Of the three li­censed body-rub par­lours in mid­town con­tacted for this story, none re­turned re­quests for com­ment. Five holis­tic spas in the area that ap­peared to of­fer “erotic” ser­vices on­line were also con­tacted and just one ve­he­mently de­nied the claim.

Sex work will con­tinue to hap­pen. Rel­e­gat­ing it to a zone or wish­ing it away isn’t ef­fec­tive.”

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