I wrote in Thursday’s Armchair Mayor column for The Daily News about the City’s planned change in business-licence fees for escort agencies.
Under amendments to the business-licence bylaw, Kamloops escort agencies, body-rub parlours and exotic dancing services will only have to pay $2,000 a year instead of $3,000. It becomes effective next calendar year.
The $3,000 fee has been in place since 1997, since the council of the day under Cliff Branchflower decided it would be a way of raising money to support a program called SHOP — Social and Health Opportunities for Persons in the sex trade.
It was akin to charging high taxes on tobacco to fund anti-smoking campaigns.
The SHOP program struggled for many years. At one point, six businesses in the above categories actually did pay for business licences, but for a long time there’s been only one. A few years ago, the City gave up on the concept of business fees paying for SHOP, and began funding it directly.
Originally hosted by the Phoenix Centre, SHOP has been under the wing of the ASK Wellness Centre for the past half-dozen years.
Escort agencies and related businesses, meanwhile, now operate largely underground. The Social Planning Council has been discussing the issue since late last year, and made the recommendation on the lowering of the business licences to $2,000 in hopes it would encourage some of them to come out in the open.
As I wrote in yesterday’s column, it won’t work, of course, but credit to the City for trying. While researching for the column, I talked with Randy Lambright at the City to find out more about what’s behind the change.
The value of licensing such businesses, or any business for that matter, is that it provides a means of monitoring them for safety and health issues and so on. For example, the escort-agency category requires proof of age of employees, to make certain under-aged workers aren’t being exploited. It also requires criminal-record checks by police when deemed advisable.
What do other cities do? According to Lambright, they vary but the new Kamloops fees are general in line with other places. Some cities still charge more; others don’t try to regulate sex businesses at all.
The column is on The Daily News website under the Columnists section.