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Plans to regulate escort agencies run into opposition

Plans to revamp a licensing bylaw to regulate escort agencies in Sylvan Lake seems to have stirred local emotions.

Almost a dozen people turned out to Monday’s town council meeting to express their opposition to the bylaw changes, which were seen as an effort to allow escort agencies to set up in town.

That’s not the case, said Mayor Susan Samson.

The intention of the bylaw is to impose restrictions on escort agencies should they apply for a local business licence. As it stands, escort agencies are not illegal and a businesses applying for a licence would be approved with no restrictions on how they operate within the bounds of law.

“They would be allowed to open up that business and work with no controls or regulations within our community,” Samson said.

“What we’re trying to do is build in regulations that control the activity and protect our community.”

Half a dozen residents addressed council and raised fears that licensing escort agencies would boost crime, put youth at risk and give the town a bad name.

Under proposed regulations, escort agencies would be required to get RCMP checks and open their financial records to scrutiny. An agency would also be required to pay a $5,000 licence fee and escorts $1,000 each.

“The dilemma that we’re faced with is we can’t prohibit them because in the eyes of the law we would be challenged and probably overturned,” said the mayor.

As an example, the town can prohibit rickshaws on town streets by using its authority to regulate public health and safety. The same sort of justification would be unlikely to stand up to a court challenge from escort agencies.

Councillors questioned whether the RCMP had the resources to enforce the bylaw and, if not, what would the cost be to the community.

Samson said escort issues aside, council was also concerned that strip joints, casinos and gambling outlets were not mentioned in the draft bylaw.

“Rather than wait until that comes up, let’s talk about it now,” said Samson, summing up council’s viewpoint.

The bylaw is expected to come back to council again in two weeks for another shot at first reading. If passed, a public hearing would be held in a month’s time.



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