TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)
Proposed changes to Toronto’s bylaws surrounding the adult entertainment industry could relax interactions between workers and their patrons, but one industry group is pushing for even wider reforms.
On Oct. 19, the Licensing and Standards Committee approved amendments to the municipal code following recommendations from city staff, who argued that previous “no-touching” policies prohibited inoffensive contact in strip clubs, such as a handshake or the accidental brushing of an arm or leg when walking by.
Because of such strict rules, the industry approached city staff with complaints, saying that they affected the safety of their work environment, making it difficult to report unwanted contact or increasing the chances of being charged for such innocuous interactions.
“Staff propose to achieve this balance by amending the bylaw, where appropriate, to include changes to the current ‘no-touch’ and ‘unobstructed-view’ provisions, bylaw terminology, construction standards for private performance areas, and provisions to address working conditions of the entertainers,” the authors of the staff report wrote.
Councillor Cesar Palacio, chair of the licensing committee, agreed with the recommendations.
“The industry came in and said there was a possibility under the old bylaw that two people shaking hands, that technically would be against the bylaw and they could be charged. So what we’ve done now is clarified it. The new bylaw is going to specify certain parts of the body that you can’t touch or can’t be touched,” said Mike Makrigiorgos, executive assistant to Coun. Palacio. “We haven’t loosened the rules, we’ve just clarified it.”
Should the changes receive the final nod from city councillors, they would come into force on Feb. 1, 2013.
Bylaw gave cops carte blanche to arrest workers
However, the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada (AEAC), said that though the amendments are a step towards safer strip clubs, they should be pushed back further.
“The reason for it to be changed was that the courts have said that unless any inappropriate activity would happen, benign contact was permitted and not considered indecent by our community standards and our society,” said Tim Lambrinos, the AEAC’s executive director.
Lambrinos went on to say that previously confusing bylaw language did not prevent unwanted touching and instead gave law enforcement officers carte blanche to arrest workers and customers for non-sexual contact.
“We’ve heard from entertainers in the past who were harassed and hauled into court for just shaking someone’s hand or accidentally bumping into somebody,” he said.
But as far as local councillors are concerned, scaling back the laws even further may expose workers to a slew of risks.
“We’re not in favour of that. A lot of the entertainers that staff spoke to said they want to do this to make some money, that they don’t want to do other things, but that they want to be protected,” explained Makrigiorgos. “Because if we open it up, then the patrons might expect more and they might be forced to do more. So that’s why we made it clear that we’re not in favour of loosening those rules at all.”
In order to protect entertainers in the industry, Lambrinos argued that there must be clearer definitions of “sex” included in the legal wording.
“We don’t feel that the changes they’re making are clear enough to prohibit sexual contact. That’s what we really want to define. So we’re going to be recommending that the definition of prohibited physical contact include specified sexual activities,” Lambrinos added.
The proposed amendments will be tabled by City Council on Oct. 30.