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Richmond review of massage parlours delayed

A Richmond review of "body rub" bylaws is expected back to council within a few months, after a year's delay.

A report to Richmond City council on massage parlours has been delayed by more than a year.

The city was initially waiting for a federal review of Bill-36, a prostitution law from the Harper era, to report back to council based on a referral moved by city Coun. Alexa Loo.

But this review, which should have been started in 2019, was never triggered by Parliament.

The safety of sex workers, however, has been once again pushed to the forefront after the killing of eight people in massage parlours in Atlanta, Ga.

The alleged shooter claimed he was targeting these businesses because he blamed sex workers for his sex addiction.

Alison Clancey, executive director of Swan, a non-profit that works with migrant sex workers, said violence is something sex workers have to deal with regularly.

She has reiterated the need for an “adult conversation” about sex work in the context of labour laws and safety.

Sex workers, however, have been “dehumanized” throughout history, based on personal moral views on sex, she said, and this often stops this conversation from happening.

“Whatever women do to generate income, whether an outsider morally agrees with it or not, I hope one thing we could all find common ground on is that if you’re a member of our communities, you deserve safety and protection like anyone else,” Clancey said.

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), brought in under the Harper government in 2014, has been criticized by advocacy agencies like Swan as making sex work riskier by criminalizing establishments where sexual services are known to be offered.

While the law protects anyone who sells their own sexual services, this doesn’t recognize how these services are normally offered, like in a strip club or massage parlour.

For example, the law makes it illegal for a bouncer to be present because he or she would be guilty of benefiting from the sale of sex.

Swan has pointed out the law encourages the isolation of sex workers and adds barriers to working indoors.

Furthermore, it reduces the ability to set boundaries and screen clients and increases distrust of the police.

Swan also argues the legislation excludes sex workers from workplace protection.

The referral on “body rub” establishments is being done through the city’s community safety arm, which includes bylaws and licensing, and is expected within a few months back at council.

The city isn’t waiting for PCEPA to be reviewed by the federal government, explained city spokesperson Clay Adams, but “clarity on timing and direction is important as it could shape the future direction of legislation regarding body rub parlours throughout the province and Canada.”

“This is an important issue on many levels and the intent is to bring the referral to council as soon as possible in a way that it can make an informed decision,” Adams said.