Calgary has replaced its 15-year-old bylaw regulating massage therapist licences with two new bylaws. Therapists are now divided into two designations: massage practitioner and body rub practitioner, based on whether or not a person holds membership in one of the four massage associations recognized by city administration.
The changes are primarily aimed at streamlining the licensing procedure for highly qualified massage therapists and allowing police to focus on monitoring businesses conducting illegal activities while registered as a massage centre.
“I think the city has taken a good step forward,” says Kathy Watson, government relations manager at Natural Health Practitioners of Canada, one of the governing associations the city worked with to develop the bylaws.
“The way that the city of Calgary has approached this resolution of their issues is actually perfect. It allows those that are practising massage to continue practising, and it allows a very clear distinction between massage therapy and the sex trade industry,” says Watson.
The changes came about after public concerns were raised that the number of illicit “massage” centres were increasing and many were clustered in the same areas without police or city oversight.
The city does not assume masseurs who fall under the heading of “body rub practitioners” are involved in the sex trade, but the lower level of qualifications required for that designation is more common to those not practising legitimate massage.
In order for authorities to keep a closer eye on the activities of less-qualified massage therapists, body rub practitioners are required to renew their licence in person, obtain an annual police check and maintain a customer register, while “massage practitioners” need not do so. Body rub centres are also prohibited from operating between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., being located within 300 metres of each other, or operating on a mobile basis, while massage practitioners may.
Calgary’s chief licence inspector, Kent Pallister, says the city worked closely with the trade associations to formulate the bylaws.
“We don’t claim to be experts in any of the industries we license. So that’s a difficulty for us: trying to set rules for industry,” says Pallister.
Massage therapists must hold a membership in either the aforementioned NHPC, Remedial Massage Therapists of Alberta, Massage Therapist Association of Alberta or the Alberta Association of Therapeutic Masseurs. The qualifications required to obtain membership varies between associations. Watson says the 2,200 hours of accredited training required by some associations and other jurisdictions is an arbitrary requirement that needlessly excludes competent massage therapists.
The NHPC has “very strict rules that our members have to abide by in order to stay a member of the association,” she says. “And that’s exactly what the point was for the city of Calgary’s efforts to make a distinction between legitimate massage and the illicit behaviour of others.”
The new bylaws take effect January 1, 2013