Adult service worker advocates say Edmonton business bylaw could threaten privacy

Edmonton City Hall pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. Dean Twardzik, Global News

The privacy of adult service workers is potentially at risk due to Edmonton’s business licence bylaw. Changes to the bylaw were debated by Edmonton city councillors at a committee meeting Tuesday.

The current bylaw mandates that adult service businesses must keep a list of the people working in their establishments.

The workers – exotic entertainment workers, body rub practitioners and escorts – have to provide their full name, pseudonym, date of birth, phone number and licence number.

That is unnecessary and is a privacy violation, according to a local advocate for adult service workers in Edmonton.

Monica Forya is co-founder of Advocacy Normalizing Sex Work through Education and Resources Society (ANSWERS). She said that the affected workers are licenced through the city and work in businesses as independent contractors.

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“When you are licensed as a provider, you are licensed universally, meaning anywhere in Edmonton, you could take that license and work anywhere or multiple locations if you so choose,” she said.

Forya said the workers operate similarly to hair stylists and tattoo artists, who rent chairs or beds from a salon or tattoo parlour and process payments on their own – there are no payables from the company to the worker.

“Really, all the owner is doing is providing the facility at which you will work.”

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Though Forya said most adult service business owners and other workers don’t have nefarious intentions, the private information could be used to “out” the worker as an adult services worker.

She said she had it happen to her years ago, when a fellow worker told Forya’s landlord what she was doing to pay her bills.

“It was a shock because I thought I was getting through life nice and quiet, not stirring things up and not putting up any red flags, and she gave them all the information they needed to know for sure that that is what I was doing,” she said.

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The proposed change would mean businesses would only need to keep track of the workers’ pseudonyms and licence numbers.

Kate Quinn, executive director of Centre To End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), said the change may help protect those working in the adult service industry.

“This change may create some limited protection for women who work in body-rub centres by taking away the power of the business owner to know their full name and date of birth,” said Quinn.

“Some body-rub centre owners are unscrupulous and abuse their power of knowledge.”

These changes were first discussed by the previous city council in August 2021, according to Lyla Peter, director of development approvals and inspections for the city.

“We heard from some industry workers who were concerned about the amount of personal information being collected by those businesses,” said Peter.

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“In listening to those workers, it was recognised that it was important to reduce the amount of information that businesses might be collecting or are required to collect and maintain because that would support the risk of any potential privacy breaches,” she said.

Peter said the data could be safer because it won’t be stored at multiple locations and only approved city employees would be able to access it.

“Our administrative and enforcement teams will still have the ability to identify who is working at each location because pseudonyms and their business licence number will still be mandated to be collected by the business, and so we’ll be able to cross-reference with our database through the city,” she said.

The four councillors on the urban planning committee – Ward O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson, Ward Karrhio Coun. Keren Tang, Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford and Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell – agreed to send the updated bylaw to a city council meeting for approval.


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