Proposed regulatory changes considered at City Hall today.
Today, the City’s Licensing and Standards Committee considered changes to one of the more obscure parts of Toronto’s municipal code: the bit that governs strip clubs.
Toronto currently has only 17 licensed “adult entertainment parlours,” down from a high of 63 in 1982. The remaining clubs have a tough business environment to contend with. Everyone who has an internet connection can see nudity (and a lot else) for free, so there isn’t as much need for live strip shows as there used to be. And then there are the City’s regulations, aspects of which club owners and some dancers have disliked for decades. The City has been studying ways of changing the bylaw to make things better for all involved; today’s committee discussion was about some of the recommendations that have resulted from that study.
Here’s a quick explainer of some of the regulatory changes that have been proposed by staff, with commentary from a dancer named Amanda, who works at a downtown strip club. She likes the work, she says, and can make as much as $800 a night if things go well.
The No-Touch Provision
This may come as a surprise to dancers and strip-club patrons, but lap dances are outlawed in Toronto. The licensing bylaw is pretty clear on this point. It says on-duty dancers can’t “touch or have physical contact with any other person in any manner whatsoever involving any part of that person’s body.” So, no touching of any kind.
City staff don’t want to abolish the no-touch provision altogether, but they recognize that it may be a little too severe. They’re recommending that it be altered to specify exactly which parts of a customer’s body a dancer can’t touch. The recommended language would forbid contact with “the covered, partially covered, or uncovered breasts, buttocks, genital, public, anal and perineal areas of a patron or any other person.” In theory, this would legalize some forms of touching: a handshake, or a touch on the thigh, the waist, or the arm.
Amanda says: She didn’t know about the no-touch provision. “Right now? Nobody can touch you?” she asked. “That’s really funny. Maybe they should educate us on the bylaws. No touching at all? That’s a little ridiculous.”
She said that some amount of touching is inevitable during private dances, which make up the majority of her income on most nights. “It’s like some kind of stripper karate trying to get them to not touch us,” she added.
The Licensing Regime
Everyone who dances in a Toronto strip club has to be licensed by the City. This means submitting to a criminal record check and providing identifying information for the City to keep on file. It also means paying a fee of $355, which can be a hardship for starting dancers. The clubs usually don’t cover the cost.
Other municipalities, like Mississauga, don’t license dancers—they leave it to club owners to maintain their own registries. City staff don’t like that system, though. They think the City does a better job of keeping the dancers’ information private than club owners could. They also think licensing discourages human trafficking.
Amanda says: She started dancing again about two months ago, after a five-year hiatus, and in fact just went through the licensing process. The club loaned her money to pay the fee. “The cost sucks,” she said. “Because we’re not getting anything for it.”
She doesn’t dislike licensing in principle, but she feels the City should be providing something in exchange for its fee. “If they protected us or provided us with service,” she added, “it would be different to put out that $400 to start dancing.”
To date, the only time she’s seen any service from the City was when inspectors came to her club to check licenses. “I didn’t like the whole license thing,” she said. “It was kind of grody.” But she does concede that the mandatory criminal record checks may make the clubs safer than they would otherwise be.
The Private Dance Areas
Right now, the licensing bylaw forbids private dances in areas not visible from the main stage of a club. Owners already skirt this requirement in different ways.
City staff are recommending that the law be made more lenient, so that dancers can work in “a designated entertainment area” as long as it’s not “obstructed from the view of patrons, entertainers, or security personnel.”
Amanda says: There are already security guards inside the private dance areas at her club. She doesn’t feel unsafe.