Freedom United voices concerns over harmful bylaw

In Newmarket, Canada, massage parlor workers will now have to prove their credentials with either a certificate from a Canadian accredited program or from an institution in their country of origin.

Newmarket mayor, John Taylor says that the issue was brought before the town council due to complaints and concerns from the community and that “The town is interested in addressing anything from illegal activities related to sexual acts, which may or may not involve human trafficking or the future or potential for human trafficking.”

Reporting just before the bylaw was passed, TVO spoke to local police who stated that they were “not aware of any human trafficking incidents connected to massage parlours occurring in Newmarket recently.”

But Mayor Taylor says, “That doesn’t mean it has never occurred and that doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred in other parts of the region and in Toronto, and it doesn’t mean it couldn’t occur here.”

If a string of trafficking incidents haven’t been uncovered at massage parlors, why are their operations being scrutinized and regulated so closely? Freedom United’s Senior Campaigns Advisor, Jamison Liang, told TVO it was “striking” that the council admitted to the lack of evidence of human trafficking ever occurring at Newmarket body-rub parlors yet pushed ahead with this bylaw.

He noted that, “[a]nti-trafficking raids and rescues often end up as anti-prostitution stings … that result in criminalizing female sex workers for prostitution and deporting migrant sex workers when no trafficking victims are found.”

Not only will many migrant workers find it impossible to produce certification, they also have limited work options because of language barriers and lack of credentials. This new bylaw could leave many jobless and, therefore, more vulnerable to trafficking.

TVO reports,

Many Asian and migrant holistic-massage workers already report facing racism and difficulty finding other work: in a survey of Asian holistic practitioners in Toronto conducted by Butterfly, 63 per cent reported issues finding other jobs; 65 per cent of workers worried about inspections and raids by authorities; and nearly 35 per cent reported that they had been abused or harassed by bylaw officers or police.

Mayor Taylor says his community wants this bylaw but Liang asks a crucial question, “Why aren’t the women who work at body-rub parlors seen as part of the local community, and why are their voices being dismissed?”

Freedom United is wary of the criminalization of sex work as a means of tackling sex trafficking as well as the pretense of anti-trafficking initiatives as a cover for rooting out sex work. Strategies to address sex trafficking must be evidence-based and centred on harm reduction.

We hosted a webinar earlier this year to explore strategies to building resilience to trafficking for sexual exploitation. You can learn more about this topic on our dedicated resource hub.

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