It’s awfully tough being in the prostitution business these days. The paperwork is a killer.
For one thing, the business-licence fees are steep. And, you must provide City Hall with a list of your employees, who will need to prove age and be available for criminal-record checks.
If you advertise in the media — and what business can succeed without advertising — you have to include your business licence number or face a $500 fine. On top of that, you have to declare that you aren’t in the sex trade at all. Instead, you must apply under the “escorts/dating services, body rub studio or exotic dancing services” category.
That’s because the business-licence bylaw, backed by federal law, disallows you from selling “any act of prostitution.”
Now, it’s entirely conceivable that some escort agencies, defined by our local laws as “furnishing escorts or partners for social occasions,” are in the business of renting companionship for dinner and a night at the movies. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest it’s also possible some of them sell sex. Indeed, one view is that the latter service is a growth industry.
In this age of cellphones and websites, street prostitution is experiencing a recession. Police red zones and stings have further cut into the “stroll,” as it’s called. Bob Hughes of the ASK Wellness Centre observed last March that the stroll had all but disappeared over winter. He recently said the downturn continued through summer, so it wasn’t just a weather thing.
If the trend is sustainable, it’s good news for the community — people are more tolerant of prostitution if they don’t have to put up with it on the streets. It’s also good for sex-trade workers, since sociologists concur that commercial sex is more safely conducted indoors than on street corners. (There are exceptions; a woman was sexually assaulted in a Kelowna escort agency in 2005.)
It’s good news for civic lawmakers, too, because they no longer have to struggle with what to do about street prostitution, an area in which they have no jurisdiction anyway. But while it may have moved indoors, the sex trade and its spinoffs haven’t left town. Until the Supreme Court makes up its mind on the fairness of federal prostitution laws, the City still has a role in risk-managing it.
So, on a recommendation from its social planning council, and to encourage uptake and “reflect the service delivery,” effective next year the City will drop escort-agency licence fees from $3,000 to $2,000 (compared to the couple of hundred bucks other businesses pay).
Back in 1997, the theory was that boosting fees would discourage escort agencies and the like from doing business in the first place, and that licence revenue could go to a program, called SHOP, aimed at keeping prostitutes safe.
The reality is that, in the 15 years the $3,000 licence fee was in play, almost nobody paid it, and cutting it by $1,000 won’t change anything. If the objective is buy-in, drop the fees to zero.
But the real question is, by attempting, at least indirectly, to monitor and regulate the sex business, is the City unofficially condoning it? I don’t think so. The new fee schedule won’t work, but we’re at least moving closer to a practical prostitution detente — out of sight, out of mind, out of jail.