“Instead of driving it underground with an emphasis on regulation and surveillance, we want to make sure that support is available from our point of view,” says the executive director of the Women’s Support Network
A move by the City of Newmarket to crack down on body massage parlors could actually help drive underground trafficking, according to the York Area Women’s Support Network.
It would be more difficult to offer help to someone who works there who may be trafficked, and it would also hurt sex workers who are not trafficked and trying to make a living, said Jacqueline Benn-John, executive director of the Newmarket-based center .
“We’re concerned because so much of it is only going to go underground. It’s not a real solution,” said Benn-John.
“There is a difference between sex work and human trafficking. It is important to understand that, like other establishments, these body massage parlors may be trafficking in human beings, but there are also people who do sex work. Regarding regulation and supervision, we want to make sure that, in our view Support is available. “
City officials are currently working on a revision of Newmarket’s bylaws regarding body massage parlors to more clearly distinguish health baths from erotic massage.
According to the current statute, the definition of a body massage parlor is broad enough that erotic massage companies can apply for a business license alongside day spas and osteopathic clinics.
At a council meeting on Monday, Councilor Trevor Morrison argued that the statutes allow companies that may be trafficking in human beings to appear legitimate.
“The implications of this statute are quite significant in that it has been shown that some form of body massage parlor can be used for human trafficking. So I know that I and my fellow councilors are determined to respond quickly to our responsibility to eradicate human trafficking,” Newmarket said Morrison.
“This statute gives the city and the York Regional Police the authority to make our residents safer.”
According to Flynn Scott, the city’s chief regulatory officer, a new statute would create classifications for businesses without registered health professionals such as massage therapists, osteopaths and naturopaths.
York Regional Police spokeswoman Laura Nicolle confirmed that police have conducted several human trafficking investigations into body massage parlors in the area, but none in Newmarket.
Although Benn-John did not ask the city to give up the idea entirely, he said the new statute would not affect the human trafficking problem.
Such businesses are certainly part of the overall problem, but a small part, and tracking them does nothing to solve the underlying problems that cause human trafficking. Instead, she is concerned that this will divert focus from the need for systemic change.
“Human trafficking and exploitation is happening across the region and we are concerned when there is so much emphasis on a cause like body massage parlors. So is this going to be a solution to the problem? Not at all,” said Benn-John.
“This is a problem that began long before any of these salons were set up. If anything, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. We need more than just this type of regulation.”
The city’s efforts would be better used to support existing anti-trafficking programs in the community, she said.
The city could also be a voice in advocating for a more effective regional strategy that ensures consistent service delivery across the York area and addresses the underlying issues that make women vulnerable to trafficking, such as the need for affordable housing .
“Having some conversations with each other to address this more fully is important and would definitely go a long way,” said Benn-John.
Flynn told the council that changing the statutes was his department’s “No. 1 priority for new statutes”.
“We recognize that human trafficking is an integral part of some of these more illegal salons in town,” said Scott.
“We have started the early stages of design and have partnered with York Regional Police partners to get their comments. We also worked with our communications department to kick off the public engagement process.
“We’re going to be putting out some news early next week, a poll. It’s about a lot, a statute like this has a lot of moving parts, so we’re moving as fast as we can.”
Benn-John said the Women’s Support Network would be willing to be part of these consultations and even provide former victims to provide their experiences.
City officials intend to submit new statutes to the council at the beginning of the second quarter of this year.
If you are a victim of human trafficking and need assistance, you can call the Relief Society’s 24/7 Crisis Service at 1-800-263-6734. Other services such as emergency assistance and accommodation can be accessed by calling 905-895-3646 ext. 112 or by email to email@example.com.