A business suspected of being a brothel in the upscale Kerrisdale neighbourhood has hit back at the City of Vancouver after it was denied permission to continue to operate as a "health enhancement centre."
And the premises, near the heart of Kerrisdale's main shopping area, appear to be still in use as a "massage" centre, to the puzzlement of residents and others nearby.
"This needs to be raised as an issue. It's ridiculous," said Dianne Dixon, who used to live across from the Windsor Spa on Balsam Street near 41st Avenue until a few months ago. "It never shut down."
But a petition to the court by Haiyang Enterprises Ltd, owned by Jennifer Juan Mei Cheong, claims that the city was wrong to take away its right to operate as a health enhancement centre – a specialist in therapeutic touch techniques.
The suit, initiated in July and updated with an affidavit in September, said the city's board of variance at a May 9 hearing accepted all kinds of anecdotal information that the spa was "illegitimate, illegal, involved in illegal activities, engaging in human trafficking and prostitution without critical examination to determine if there was any credible evidence."
The suit claims the evidence consisted of unsubstantiated allegations by "NIMBYs" worried about their upscale neighbourhood who claimed that there must be "illegal activities of a sexual nature taking place" because the business is filled with "these black haired Asians who can't speak English."
The suit also maintains that it is improper to let a municipal government use its bylaws "to illegitimize prostitution and to harass persons suspected of engaging in prostitution."
Councillor Kerry Jang, whose porfolio includes sex-trade issues, said he didn't know anything about the specifics of the case. But the case appears to illustrate the city's ongoing struggles with the various business licences it issues to body-rub parlours, escort services and health enhancement centres. The city is conducting a re-examination of how it licenses those services.
Vancouver police, who had several officers testifying at the May hearing, wouldn't comment other than to say the department "is aware of the business and complaints from the community."
The business, called the Windsor Spa in the lawsuit, got permission in December, 2010, to change its use from a beauty and wellness centre to a health enhancement centre. It started generating complaints during the summer of 2011, says the president of the Kerrisdale Business Improvement Association.
Many residents spotted advertisements on the Internet and in local newspapers offering massage services at the Windsor Spa address. As well, some commented on the fact that the doors to the premises were locked even during the day and that it seemed to attract only men.
At first, it was hard to believe, said Colin Holyk of Kerrisdale Pharmacy, a family business that has operated there for 30 years. "I'm thinking, 'You're kidding me' when I first heard. It's not Kerrisdale at all," he said.
In October, 2011, Ms. Cheong bought out former partners. She tried to get permission to continue to use the premises as a health enhancement centre. But she was turned down on Jan. 9, 2012. When residents heard that she was appealing the decision to the board of variance, many of them sent in letters objecting.
One resident in the building, Susanne Ebeling, wrote expressing her concern about "illegal activities of a sexual nature" going on at the business, saying she "thought brothels were illegal" in Vancouver.
Ms. Cheong's lawyer did not return calls from The Globe and Mail.
A Google search of the former Windsor Spa address turns up a listing, at the top of the page, for an Amapola Massage. Others businesses on the same page include Asian Fingers Massage, Happy Girl Massage and Expert Massage. Amapola has the same phone number that the Windsor Spa did.
A receptionist who answered the phone said the business operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. When asked for more information or a manager to speak to, and told it was a reporter calling, she said: "I cannot talk to you, my English no good."