Girls as young as 12 have been drawn into doorways and propositioned for sex outside the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre (BNC), a large recreation and education facility for West Broadway youth.
“Some of our young girls, as young as 12 years old, are getting propositioned by men ... we’ve had to chase people away who are smoking crack or loitering outside,” said Lawrence Mulhall, program manager for the BNC, adding that men have wandered into the centre looking for a local, unmarked massage parlour.
Tokyo Palace, a massage parlour located at 610 Broadway, shares a back lane with the BNC and Art City.
For weeks, these organizations, as well as Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Councillor Jenny Gerbasi, have been clamouring for new zoning restrictions on massage parlours to put a stop to the issues surrounding Tokyo Palace.
However, it appears that the city’s hands are tied.
“The city doesn’t have any other tools other than finding them in violation of their license,” said Molly McCracken, executive director of the West Broadway Development Corporation.
It was originally reported that massage parlours could operate in any commercial district in Winnipeg, which prompted Gerbasi to propose a motion to help ensure that Tokyo Palace could not re-open if it had its license revoked.
“But then we were told ... that they were only allowed in the downtown area,” Gerbasi added, explaining that the original motion has been dropped.
All massage parlours and escort services are confined to the downtown and are governed by the Downtown Zoning Bylaw, said Martin Grady, zoning and permits administrator for the City of Winnipeg.
“I haven’t heard any push for changes to the restrictions,” he said, adding that there are very few schools or places for youth downtown and that there are only three licensed parlours in Winnipeg.
The only reason Tokyo Palace has been allowed to stay at its current location is that it existed before zoning restrictions came into effect, according to Grady. The only way it can currently be relocated is if its license is revoked, he noted.
This is no consolation for Mulhall, however, who continues to face problems related to the massage parlour.
“It’s the one eyesore left in the neighbourhood,” he said, and the city should do “whatever it takes” to have Tokyo Palace relocated.
While operating, massage parlours must abide by a number of restrictions governing appearance and sexual behaviour.
According to the city, Tokyo Palace has violated those restrictions and faces two charges of allowing people to be nude on the premises. A court date is scheduled for October.
A representative from Tokyo Palace refused to comment other than to say that the business has done nothing wrong and that they have no reason to defend themselves.
Mulhall added that the city should get tough on massage parlours to match their attitude toward pawn shops and adult video stores.
Adult video stores must be located in commercial areas and be 1,000 feet away from any residence, place of worship, park, school or other adult video store. Similar restrictions apply to pawn shops.
Meanwhile, the only restriction applicable to massage parlours and escort services is that they must be confined to the downtown area.
Coun. Gerbasi said this theoretically means that a massage parlour can open right next to a daycare centre so long as it is confined within the Downtown Zoning Bylaw.
Published in Volume 65, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 27, 2011)