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Regina city council approves Body Rub Establishment Licensing Program

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Regina City Council approves Body Rub Establishment Licensing Program
WATCH: Following a meeting that saw over 20 members of the public weigh in, Regina city council voted to license "body rub establishment" owners and workers. – Sep 2, 2020

Despite hearing opposition from over a dozen delegations, Regina city council voted in favour of licensing body rub establishments (BREs) Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m glad it’s finally finished because it’s been a very long consultation”, Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said.

The program will license BRE owners and workers.

The licensing process will include criminal record checks, the completion of an education program, and proof of identity, age and working eligibility.

Read more: Regina city council to vote on proposal to regulate body rub establishments

Regina City Council has been discussing regulating BREs for over a year.

Zoning regulations were finalized late last year and the licensing proposal was first looked at by executive committee in early August.

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Delegates brought forward various concerns in their presentations to council’s final discussion on the matter Wednesday.

Some made the argument that licensing BREs would be a violation of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which creates “an offence that prohibits purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose.”

Christy Kasur, a practicing massage therapist from Edmonton, told council she believes licensing Body Rub Establishments “harms the integrity of the massage profession” and “increases the harm of sexual violence to legitimate massage therapists”.

Read more: Body rub parlours to be restricted to industrial areas in Regina

“The illicit massage businesses and body rub establishments create confusion in the public’s eyes between massage health professionals and illicit massage service providers”, Kasur said.

The possibility of licensing leading to an increase in human trafficking was also discussed several times.

And, while many delegates expressed a desire to see the city ban BREs altogether, many said that if licensing were to be granted they would prefer it only be given to workers themselves.

Read more: Ontario government announces programs to curb sex trafficking and educate youth

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“While it is not against the federal law (PCEPA) to allow sellers of sex to advertise and sell their own services, it is 100 per cent against the law to allow third-party individuals to do so,” said Andrea Heinz, who told council she was bought for sex 4300 times over seven years while working in Edmonton.

“By licensing owners you will legitimize exploiters as every day normal business owners,” Heinz continued.

Following the 8-3 vote in council, Mayor Fougere said it was a debate with no perfect answer.

“To not provide the licensing for them would mean that that would be the wild west related to how we regulate these establishments,” he said. “There’d be no protection for the persons who work there and no way of determining who is running these organizations. How safe is that?”

Read more: Edmonton councillor wants body rub parlours closed during pandemic to stay that way

The proposed program, which was the only item on the special council meeting agenda Wednesday, also saw vigorous debate within Henry Baker Hall.

Ward 4 Coun. Lori Bresciani echoed the concerns of some delegates that licensing BRE owners would violate PCEPA.

In debate she asked council to reconsider an outright ban on BREs in Regina.

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“We want to ensure that we get this right. We have heard from residents that they don’t want this in our community. These establishments have become high areas for trafficking women,” Bresciani said.

But Ward 2 Councillor Bob Hawkins indicated that while he agrees there are complexities navigating licensing and federal law, he agrees that backing away from licensing could leave the industry in a “wild west” situation.

“I’m going to support this, not because I like body rub parlours, but because I believe some regulation is better than none,” he said during the debate.

Ward 5 Councillor John Findura proposed an amendment to the program recommendations that BRE owners not be licensed, but it was defeated by the majority vote on the floor.

Another amendment, led by Ward 10 Coun. Jerry Flegel, to change allowable hours of operation for BREs to 11 am to midnight was approved.

The original recommended allowable hours of operation were 10 am to 2 am. Flegel indicated he believed allowing BREs to operate later into the night could increase the risk to workers.

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens, meanwhile, called licensing the “best way forward”.

“There has not been a single issue with this level of research and consultation,” Stevens said of the BRE discussion.

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