In­dus­try pleads for pri­vacy as city looks to reg­u­late body rub par­lours

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The blinds are al­ways shut at Ori­en­tal Spa.The women at the Broad Street mas­sage par­lour keep their work a se­cret.One hides be­hind the half-open door that al­lows a soft pur­ple hue to ra­di­ate into the foyer. An­other, wear­ing polka-dot py­ja­mas in the mid­dle of the af­ter­noon, says she’s wor­ried about the stigma of get­ting la­belled “mas­sage lady.”She said she’s afraid her daugh­ter might find out, and call her a bad mother.“(I) don’t tell my fam­ily, don’t tell my best friend — only here,” she says.The women at Ori­en­tal Spa have some­thing else in com­mon. They don’t want to give mas­sages for­ever.“Ev­ery girl has fu­ture job. Ev­ery peo­ple have a dream job — not mas­sage job,” the same woman ex­plained dur­ing an ear­lier phone in­ter­view. “That’s maybe one month. They are very poor.”She de­nies the par­lour pro­vides what the city plans to call “body rubs,” mas­sages of­fered for sex­ual plea­sure. But a web ad­ver­tise­ment for Ori­en­tal Spa de­picts women in lin­gerie, their faces out of frame or blurred out.“Hot Asian beau­ti­ful!!” it reads. “Best ser­vices you would love.”What­ever ser­vices she might pro­vide, the woman in py­ja­mas isn’t fond of the li­cens­ing idea that came to coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee last month, as one of two pro­posed op­tions to reg­u­late body rub par­lours.“If you have mas­sage li­cence, they can­not find a govern­ment job, can­not find a good job, be­cause in Canada, li­cence will fol­low you,” she said.“Very dan­ger­ous, these li­cences.”Pri­vacy con­cerns will loom large as the City of Regina and the Regina Po­lice Ser­vice pre­pare for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on a reg­u­la­tory ap­proach for the par­lours, which are now op­er­at­ing in vi­o­la­tion of the zon­ing by­law.In an in­dus­try that lives on dis­cre­tion, no one wants to bare all to the city.Denica Kowalchuk has run Come & Go Mas­sage on an in­dus­trial stretch of Win­nipeg Street for the past six years. She won’t re­veal ex­actly what kind of ser­vices her em­ploy­ees pro­vide at the par­lour, which can be ac­cessed only through a back en­trance and closes as late as 4 a.m.Kowalchuk said she’s been work­ing in the in­dus­try — in var­i­ous jobs — for more than two decades. She’s fine with the city’s pro­posal to use the term “body rub.” She’s ready to ac­cept a li­cens­ing regime for her busi­ness.She’s even pre­pared for po­lice en­force­ment.But she doesn’t want the same scru­tiny for the women who work for her.“Pri­vacy. That’s what ev­ery­body wants,” Kowalchuk said. “As long as that re­quire­ment is met, I can’t see an is­sue.”She stresses that work­ers don’t want to be la­belled “body rub prac­ti­tion­ers.” Ac­cord­ing to Kowalchuk, they fear it could leave a pa­per trail that will come back to haunt them — re­veal­ing their se­cret to em­ploy­ers, friends or fam­ily.“Peo­ple do move on. They be­come nurses, so­cial work­ers, pro­fes­sion­als,” she said. “They want to make sure there’s noth­ing that’s go­ing to stop them from get­ting a de­cent job.”At last count, there were 21 sus­pected body rub par­lours in Regina. Crit­ics warn they could be hot­beds for se­ri­ous crime, such as un­der­age pros­ti­tu­tion or hu­man traf­fick­ing. The city’s li­cens­ing pro­posal is in­tended to shine a light in­side the par­lours — and keep work­ers safe.The model calls for par­lours to pro­vide an up-to-date list­ing of all the body rub prac­ti­tion­ers who work there. It would sub­ject the premises to health in­spec­tions. As pro­posed, it would re­quire prac­ti­tion­ers to get a crim­i­nal record check and show they’re over 18 and legally able to work in Canada.Kowalchuk urged peo­ple to avoid paint­ing all par­lours with the same brush. She said the staff at Come & Go are all over 21 and work there “be­cause they want to.” She said she’s a stick­ler for main­tain­ing a safe and san­i­tary work en­vi­ron­ment.“You can eat off the floors here,” she said. “It’s ex­cel­lent.”But Regina po­lice Supt. Corey Za­haruk said he can’t com­ment on whether some body rub par­lours are more re­spon­si­ble than oth­ers.“It’s anec­do­tal,” he said. “That’s one of the rea­sons why we’re look­ing for strong reg­u­la­tion in this re­gard, so that we have the abil­ity to fully un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing within these busi­nesses — and right now we don’t.”He ad­vised skep­ti­cism of any body rub par­lour op­er­a­tor who claims to be an eth­i­cal em­ployer.“Our ex­pe­ri­ence is that these busi­nesses of­ten ex­ploit peo­ple,” he said. “We have a con­cern about the work­ers in­side. They’re of­ten peo­ple work­ing in those es­tab­lish­ments be­cause they have no other choices, no other ways to sup­port them­selves or peo­ple who de­pend on them.“So in my view, it’s not a story of a good busi­ness. It’s the story of kind of tragic cir­cum­stances for most.”Za­haruk said that’s pre­cisely why of­fi­cers need to know who works in the sex trade, since many are vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion. He said a reg­u­la­tory frame­work — es­pe­cially one with in­spec­tions — would help po­lice get the in­for­ma­tion they’re miss­ing.But he’s con­vinced they can do that with­out breach­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity.“I think we can very much al­le­vi­ate that con­cern within the sec­tor,” Za­haruk said. “It’s not our goal to make pub­lic in­for­ma­tion about those work­ing within the sec­tor. The women in there, we very much want to re­spect their pri­vacy.”He said po­lice will seek feed­back when they reach out to par­lour own­ers and work­ers, as part of the con­sul­ta­tion process set to be­gin next year.Saska­toon’s ap­proach might show the way. It al­ready has an Adult Ser­vices Li­cens­ing By­law, which gov­erns body rubs and sim­i­lar adult ser­vices. The by­law re­quires work­ers to show photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, sub­mit writ­ten proof of cit­i­zen­ship or res­i­dency sta­tus, and get a crim­i­nal record check.Sgt. Brent Kuem­per of the Saska­toon Po­lice Ser­vice’s vice unit said there is “no re­lease of that in­for­ma­tion what­so­ever.”“It’s 100 per cent con­fi­den­tial­ity,” he said.Saska­toon’s act­ing di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity ser­vices, Jo-anne Richter, said none of the in­for­ma­tion col­lected from work­ers or per­form­ers is avail­able to the pub­lic. But re­search has raised con­cerns that some cities may share adult li­cens­ing records with other govern­ment agen­cies, such as so­cial ser­vices. At the very least, it might be open to sub­poena in le­gal pro­ceed­ings.“This in­for­ma­tion can be used to re­strict ac­cess to so­cial ser­vices or to threaten a mother’s cus­tody and/ or ac­cess to her chil­dren,” ac­cord­ing to a study on es­cort li­cens­ing by Jacque­line Lewis and Eleanor Mat­icka-tyn­dale of the Univer­sity of Wind­sor.The woman at Ori­en­tal Spa fears her in­for­ma­tion will be ac­ces­si­ble to bor­der of­fi­cials. She said she goes to her home coun­try, which she wouldn’t spec­ify, to visit her 89-year-old mother once a year.“If you go to dif­fer­ent coun­try, cus­toms will check your pass­port: ‘Wow, you’re mas­sage girl,’” she said. “They will have a ter­ri­ble face … They’ll take your stuff, ev­ery­thing. Very ter­ri­ble.”She also feared the records could sur­vive and carry her se­crets to the next gen­er­a­tion.“If your chil­dren find a govern­ment job or maybe go to po­lice of­fi­cer job, type your mom, type your fa­ther,” she said.Even if the po­lice keep all her in­for­ma­tion to them­selves, she still isn’t will­ing to buy in. She fears they’ll give her a hard time dur­ing traf­fic stops.“I think that if you, Regina, have mas­sage li­cence, a lot of girls go to an­other city,” she said.Work­ers must trust po­lice enough to be­lieve what they say — and to agree to bring their work out of the shad­ows. And that may be dif­fi­cult when of­fi­cers con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate crim­i­nal of­fences re­lated to their busi­ness.Po­lice say there’s some con­fu­sion over what the pro­posed li­cens­ing sys­tem would ac­tu­ally al­low. Sell­ing sex is now le­gal, but it’s still against the law for a third party — like a busi­ness owner — to make money off pros­ti­tu­tion.Li­cens­ing wouldn’t change any ofThey be­come pre­car­i­ous work­ers. They’re not pro­tected by a union. They’re not pro­tected legally, so they can be ha­rassed.that, ac­cord­ing to Za­haruk.“We’re not try­ing to al­low a work­around to the Crim­i­nal Code,” he said.Dar­lene Juschka, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the Univer­sity of Regina’s Women’s & Gen­der Stud­ies De­part­ment, said that might limit the ben­e­fits of li­cens­ing. She sug­gested that work­ers will be left in a kind of le­gal limbo that will dis­cour­age them from as­sert­ing their rights.“They be­come pre­car­i­ous work­ers,” she said. “They’re not pro­tected by a union. They’re not pro­tected legally, so they can be ha­rassed. The other prob­lem is, if you’re work­ing in the grey area, you’re not go­ing to re­port to the po­lice if there’s a prob­lem. You just can’t, you’re too vul­ner­a­ble.”But Juschka said the city’s li­cens­ing pro­posal is still a ma­jor ad­vance over the sta­tus quo. It’s also bet­ter than the sec­ond op­tion the city is propos­ing: Strength­ened en­force­ment that would shut down many par­lours and force oth­ers into in­dus­trial ar­eas.Vul­ner­a­ble women are more likely to face vi­o­lence in places with poor light­ing, no tran­sit and lit­tle po­lice pres­ence, ac­cord­ing to Juschka.She agreed with Kowalchuk that the sys­tem will have to be care­fully de­signed to earn sex work­ers’ trust and pro­tect their rep­u­ta­tions in a so­ci­ety that doesn’t seem ready to wel­come them as equal cit­i­zens.“If we had a so­cial sys­tem that said this is not a big deal and there’s no moral judg­ment on these peo­ple, that this is a job like any other and they need not be ashamed of it, then I see li­cens­ing as no prob­lem,” she said.“If, how­ever, li­cens­ing means that they’ll be shamed, that they will in­deed not be able to get jobs and so forth hav­ing been li­censed, then I think that’s a prob­lem.”

While a neon sign over the Ori­en­tal Spa on Broad Street ad­ver­tises mas­sages, a woman work­ing there de­nies ‘body rubs’ are of­fered.

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