Vote to change Winnipeg bylaw would cost rub parlours, escort agencies their licences

Diane Redsky wants to live in a city where women and girls are not for sale.

If changes to a City of Winnipeg bylaw are approved next week, Redsky’s wish will come true as escort agencies and rub parlours will lose their licences.

The longtime advocate and executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre calls the potential changes vital, especially for Indigenous women and girls.

“This bylaw is critically important to the safety and protection of primarily Indigenous women and girls who are being victimized throughout these establishments,” Redsky said. “And if we really want to stop it we really need to shut them down and make it illegal.”

There are approximately two legal parlours and agencies in the city, but advocates such as Redsky estimate there are hundreds of illegal rub parlours and escort agencies that use thousands of women and girls in Winnipeg alone.

She didn’t mince words when asked about what she thought of the establishments.

“If you profit off the sexual exploitation of women and girls or off the sexual exploitation of anybody, that’s the definition of a pimp,” Redsky said.

Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, says changes to the Doing Business in Winnipeg bylaw are ‘critically important.’ (Kelly Malone/CBC)

She said that includes the City of Winnipeg.

Since 2008, licensing escort agencies, independent escort agencies, escorts, body rub practitioners and body rub parlours has fallen under the Doing Business in Winnipeg bylaw.

If the motion to implement the bylaw changes is passed, all of those licences would be repealed.

“I think the intention originally was for the city to license them so that the city could have better eyes on them and control to make sure that problems weren’t happening there,” said Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James).

“Unfortunately, the city licensing these places did not prevent victimization.”

Gillingham will be voting in favour of the changes.

“We must do all we can as a city to prevent human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable people,” he said. “The city cannot have a licensing structure that inadvertently enables or legitimizes exploitation, and so I’m very supportive of the change to do away with licensing these places.”

If you profit off the sexual exploitation of women and girls or off the sexual exploitation of anybody, that’s the definition of a pimp,​​​​​​.– Diane Redsky

However, that was not the stance taken after city staff did a review of the bylaw several months ago.

According to Gillingham, city staff recommended making requirements including adding cameras for rub parlours and escort agencies.

Messaging from advocacy groups and the likes of Redsky and former federal and provincial politician Joy Smith resulted in the city’s executive policy committee being asked to go back and meet with a bevy of stakeholders and those involved in those sectors.

“I’m really glad that the City of Winnipeg did a stop and check, that they consulted experts,” Redsky said.

Gillingham, who took the time to speak with one escort, credits the staff for connecting with so many stakeholders.

He believes the city will be stronger for it if the bylaw is altered.

“The city’s got to make sure that our policies and licensing structures are such that they are protective … and do all we can to thwart and reduce and stop human trafficking and exploitation,” Gillingham said.

In addition to the prospective bylaw changes, there have been calls for a partnership with the National Human Trafficking Education Centre, which was created by the Joy Smith Foundation, as well as the requirement for all Winnipeg vehicle-for-hire drivers to take free-of-charge training to spot the signs of sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Winnipeg Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) says he will be voting in favour of the proposed changes to the bylaw, which will see rub parlours and escort agencies deemed illegal entities. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Gillingham says this will build on the partnership the city has with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the work the Winnipeg Police Service’s counter-exploitation unit does.

Manitoba also has its own sexual exploitation strategy, Tracia’s Trust, which launched in 2002.

But Redsky says just changing the bylaw is insufficient.

“It’s not just about shutting it down. We still have to address the root causes of why women are living in poverty and why they don’t have enough money and what makes them vulnerable to places like massage parlours and escort agencies,” she said.

The proposed changes to the bylaw include commitments by the city for greater support and addressing the root causes that make Indigenous women and girls vulnerable.

Passing the motion during a vote on Wednesday “means we all live in a city where women and girls are not for sale,” Redsky said. “And that’s the city I want to live in.”