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Legally, Winnipeg does not have massage parlours! Does anyone care?

February 4, 2020  By George Fraser – RMTSMB

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Registered Massage Therapists (RMT’s) have a long standing concern about the ongoing use of the term/reference to ‘Massage Parlours’ used in the general media whenever any sexual exploitation charges are investigated by Police. The negative public use of the reference always undermines the positive image of the professional RMT who provides treatments to their clients, for health reasons, in a safe clinical environment. The Police focus on the ‘Exploitation’ the media drift to the ‘Massage Parlour’ stereotype!

This old ‘cliché surfaced again last week in the Winnipeg media coverage about a Police incident of ‘Sexual Exploitation’. RMT’s are, in the main, helpless to stop this unfavourable comparison without a change in reporting references in the general media.

Legally, Winnipeg does not have ‘Massage Parlours’ it has ‘Body Rub Parlours’! Massage is not a direct reference in its bylaws.

RMT’s always ask rhetorically … Why do the media continue to use ‘Massage Parlour’ as the ‘go to’ reference? Could this possibly ever change? Shouldn’t the media be correct in its references?


In 2007/08, I had the privilege of  representing RMT’s before the City of Winnipeg Council when there was growing concern about the negative and dangerous activities of these ‘Massage Parlours’. Councillors wanted to deal with the situation in the best way possible within the context of their bylaw formulation process.

The end result was to have the licensing of these establishments newly referenced as ‘Body Rub Parlours’ vs. ‘Massage Parlours’. Some RMT’s suggested, at that time, that these parlours be identified as ‘Sex Parlours’ and those employed therein as ‘Sex Workers’. The Council rejected that suggestion but wanted to respect legitimate RMT’s and their role in the community.  The 2008 Bylaw was created and while not perfect, it at least removed reference to ‘Massage Parlours’. Since that time in 2008, the City approval process for such business establishments & their ongoing operations has had to follow a specific process that is linked below:

When this Bylaw was approved in 2008, it was also an attempt by the City and the profession to describe the means by which legitimate RMT’s would not be subject to this new bylaw & be exempt from its application thereby acknowledging their legitimate clinic operations based on very specific educational & practice criteria. Criteria which fairly and clearly describe what was a qualified RMT. This was especially true for new Massage Therapy businesses. The Bylaw remains unchanged 12 years later.

The Bylaw requires ongoing bylaw monitoring by the City of Winnipeg and remains of interest to the police when complaints arise such as this recent situation required.  Legitimate Massage Therapy businesses are still subject to all the other normal conditions business owners are required to comply with in the course of their daily business relationships with the City. That did not change.

Sadly, the RMT Community cannot shake the ‘Massage Parlour’ stereotype.

The other sad reality is that our Province has not completed regulation of Massage Therapists even after approving to do so in 2015. RMT’s do not have any licensing or regulation status under the Regulated Health Professions Act of the Province of Manitoba (RHPA 2009). At present any one can call themselves a Massage Therapist and practice without any oversite anywhere in Manitoba. The Province claims it does not have enough resources to complete the task.

That 2009 Provincial Act was created to provide ‘Public Protection’ for all Health Professions beginning with a public registry requirement and including components such as entry to practice educational standards & compulsory registration/practice standards/complaints & discipline actions etc.

An Association registry, mentioned in several stories, unfortunately, does not contain the entire RMT registration list as several associations have members in the province – not just one single source. In addition, RMT’s can opt out of the Association based public registry for various reasons including personal safety issues. That is not possible with compulsory registration under the RHPA which is part of  a Regulatory College. Some association members do not meet the basic entry to practice requirements that a regulated profession will require and they will be part of the Association registry list too. Associations do try to help protect the public but full protection requires regulation by the Province of Manitoba who have since 2009 assumed this duty of protection of the public. That is except with Massage Therapists! The only health profession not part of the RHPA.

A Regulatory College for Massage Therapists will have wide ranging powers; it will be able to investigate any RMT or any person misrepresenting themselves as a massage therapist or a clinic operating illegally. It will have the power to audit all of these entities. Based upon complaints it too could investigate and initiate contact with the Police and lodge formal complaints. A regulatory college can also, with its legislative authority, investigate situations like this as a partner of any police service, at the same time the Police are investigating. It can apply sanctions in many situations under its jurisdiction, if required, and much more quickly. If the need demonstrates immediate public protection it can act. Much faster than the courts can.

The 2008 the referenced Winnipeg Bylaw recognized that the Provincial RHPA was coming into place and it is mentioned in the exemption clauses of the bylaw. Everyone thought the Provincial process would be in place very soon back in 2008. But here we are in 2020 with the citizens of Manitoba … still without public protection during Massage Therapy treatments.

It is interesting to note that as Manitoba hesitates & avoids; the Province of Ontario has celebrated its 100th year of Massage Therapy regulation in 2019 and is the benchmark regulatory environment for Massage Therapy regulation in Canada. Manitoba remains far behind this standard caught in a bureaucratic daze.

In the same time frame, leading up to 2008 bylaw, the City of Winnipeg also ceased licensing Massage Therapists anticipating the province would establish a regulatory College who would assume that task. The City also acknowledged it lacked the resources to monitor the licensing function. Most RMT’s saw City licensing at that time as a ‘Money Grab’ occurring with no ability to provide oversight! RMT’s argued then that no other health professionals were/are licensed in this manner by the City. These other professions are regulated by Provincial regulation as health care is a Provincial responsibility.

Outstanding in this current Police investigation is City of Winnipeg administrative information on just how this business entity became established and operated within or outside the City of Winnipeg bylaw. Did the City  provide oversite based on intended  use by its owners and the practitioners employed within? Or did this establishment miss the monitoring process?

Only the City can explain this oversight process and if it was followed. The City should provide this overview of their involvement now out of public interest and at the trial given the serious charges. It would help to clarify the status of this business from a bylaw perspective and just what administrative oversite means when applications are received under the bylaw. Is there any public protection?

As a side note, much has changed in 12 years and the police are correct about online activity comments they made during the media conference held recently. The majority of this form of exploitation is now on social media. It is the biggest challenge now and requires Federal/Provincial Government intervention to attack this level of exploitation. Many politicians have spoken out about this exploitation issue & other social media related problems but the presence only grows.

Legitimate RMT’s and their clinics are often linked to this exploitation. Any ‘Google Search’ inputting the words ‘Massage’ and ‘Parlour’ gives an immediate link to several legitimate Registered Massage Therapists. This has to end.

Finally, many RMT’s feel that Media reporting can help to change opinion & awareness on any subject. So there is an opportunity for a different style of reporting that respects legitimate RMT’s in the future when ‘Sexual Exploitation’ under the guise of massage therapy appears again.

If local media were to use the ‘Body Rub Parlour/Practitioner’ reference in stories such as this or would choose a different headline instead of ‘Massage Parlour’, it would help the 1,500 legitimate RMT’s (80 % are women) who practice in Manitoba to hold their heads high in comparison to their professional health care colleagues who are not subject to this type of ‘Cliché’.

There are no Physiotherapists Parlours; there are no Chiropractic Parlours; there are no Dental Parlours nor Family Physicians Parlours. So why should there be Massage Parlours in the language of media reporting?

RMT’s are qualified health care professionals who annually provide over a million therapeutic treatments to their grateful clients in this province. All Health professionals should be able to practice without this type of headline ‘cloud’ hanging over their professional heads! They are not part of this exploitation and should not be drawn into the discussion.

We urge Manitoba media to reflect on this difficult ongoing & challenging journey experienced by RMT’s before they hit the keyboard to report the next incident!

George Fraser, BA, CAE

Executive Director/Registrar

Remedial Massage Therapists Society of Manitoba Inc.

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