Coderre’s rub-and-tug crackdown is wrong

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Denis Coderre would probably hate this place. Photo via Flickr

In one of his first major policy initiatives as mayor, Denis Coderre this week announced his intention to crack down on massage parlours that offer to rub more than just your back.

There’s no denying that there are a lot of small massage enterprises in the city, as I found out by accident last week. I was looking on Craigslist for a place to store my car for the winter and was surprised to find that the search term “parking” elicited dozens of ads for massage services in my neighbourhood.

But Coderre’s move suggests a rather strange priority, given all the other problems the city is facing. Certainly there are aspects of the trade that are deeply troubling, especially the employment of minors and women who are trafficked into sexual slavery. But those are criminal acts that one hopes our police have been fighting aggressively all along.

Coderre wants to use the city’s powers to inspect these parlours to death, take away their permits, harass them until they are driven out of business or — more likely — driven underground, where they will be even harder to police and where their victims will remain unprotected.

The gesture has been applauded by legitimate massage therapists, who are understandably upset when a client asks for “extras” with his rub-down. Insurance companies, too, would like to see fewer receipts coming from parlours of ill repute.

But is this an issue that merits all the attention that a mayor can muster in his first week in office? It must have been a major issue during the campaign, right? Strange that it slips my mind, though. A quick Google search using the terms “Coderre” and “massage” turns up next to nothing before last week except a listing for registered massage therapists in Coderre, Sask., and an ad for Clinique Coderre in Drummondville.

(Aside from this week’s plethora of stories, there’s also a satirical article in la Pravda in which Coderre mounts a Rob Ford-like denial that he was videotaped negotiating a happy ending at a Chinese massage parlour.)

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During the campaign, Coderre said he had a solid set of priorities for his first 100 days in office. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure his calendar didn’t say, “Day #4, reveal choices for executive committee and announce crackdown on prostitution.”

The problem with Coderre’s impromptu sortie is not so much the subject as it is the seemingly off-the-cuff way it made it into news headlines Monday, coming on the heels of a meeting with police chief Marc Parent. The seemingly improvisational approach to priority-setting bodes ill for democracy at city hall because, as far as I know, the mayor hadn’t consulted anyone else before making the announcement.

And on these kinds of issues, there are lots of people to consult, starting with other municipalities that have a say in how police resources are allocated. Then there’s the public security commission, members of the mayor’s own party and, of course, city council itself.

If you think this sounds like bureaucratic red tape designed to stop Mayor Coderre from taking strong, unilateral action on whatever strikes his fancy, well, you’re right. That’s exactly what it is. Because how the city spends its $5 billion budget and $4.1 billion in three-year public works projects is not in the hands of just one man — it is entrusted to more than 100 other elected officials, many of whom sit on council commissions created to oversee things like public security, public transit and municipal finances.

When Coderre stands up and announces a crackdown — whether it’s on prostitution, pot smoking, jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk — he commits resources that all of us have contributed to pay for. At a minimum, he needs to consult with the other people we elected to office before jumping on his white horse and declaring war. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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