City councillors and human trafficking advocates are hoping the City of Winnipeg's council votes to stop licencing escort and body parlour services, saying they do not want the city to profit off of human trafficking.
St. James City Councillor Scott Gillingham, backed by Councillor Sherri Rollins, says the council will be voting on Wednesday to stop body rub parlour and escort agency licences, as well as practitioner licences for these services. Gillingham says after many months of conversations, he has learned that human trafficking has been occurring at these facilities.
"By the City of Winnipeg providing licences for body rub parlours, we have heard that the City may inadvertently be enabling exploitation and human trafficking," Gillingham says. "I think preventing human trafficking should be important to anybody."
Gillingham is especially concerned about human trafficking, noting that in his decades of church service, human trafficking was an issue his congregation cared deeply about.
"Combatting human trafficking both at home and around the world was something that we looked at in the congregation that I was in prior to being elected. I think that this should matter to every Winnipegger." Gillingham was the pastor at Grace Community Church in Winnipeg before entering politics.
The Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Collation says the information being put forward about these facilities is misleading.
"There are many alarming recommendations in this report, and sex workers and allies of Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (SWWAC) are extremely disturbed when we consider the negative impacts that will follow the implementation of most of them," the group writes on Facebook, asking people to write a petition to their city councillors.
The group says there is a difference between sex work and human trafficking and is concerned these lines are being blurred in the report. The SWWAC is in favour of the idea to remove the licencing requirements, saying it often leads to added police involvement at these facilities.
Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre's Executive Director Diane Redsky and Joy Smith, the founder of the Joy Smith Foundation put in months of effort with Gillingham to put together the report.
Smith says that while some people may assume escort services and body rub parlours are safe because they are licenced, she says that is not true.
"It's not business; it's violence against women," she says. "Everyone thinks it is a business. They think it is safe. It is not safe."
Smith says she has recently taken a girl as young as 13-years-old out of a Winnipeg body rub parlour.
"If we could succeed at making this happen, through the grace of God, this would be a game-changer in Canada," Smith says.
She is asking for prayers that her presentation at City Hall Wednesday will be heard and touch hearts.
"We are saying it will happen, in the name of Jesus. Because for such a time as this, this is what's got to happen. Kids should not be bought and sold in our country."
If approved, Winnipeg will be the first city of its kind in Canada to make this kind of motion. Smith says other cities such as Edmonton have approached the foundation before about human trafficking.
Smith is highly encouraging parents to use the newly-opened National Human Trafficking Education Centre's free resources to talk about human trafficking with their children, and churches to access a biblically-based program.
Gillingham is recommending the City of Winnipeg partner with the centre, including with the vehicles for hire sector to teach those drivers the signs of human trafficking.