Groups calling on municipality to end the injustice and repeal new, racist by-law

For immediate release

May 5, 2022 – Toronto – A group of more than 50 allied organizations — as well as community members, activists, academics, and others — who are committed to human rights, racial justice, and ending violence against women are deeply concerned and disturbed by the Town of Newmarket’s newly enacted by-law that enshrines anti-Asian racism and unfairly targets Asian massage businesses. As a result, those businesses will be unable to access necessary licenses and their businesses will be forced to shutter. Workers will suffer. This needless show of force is particularly egregious during the month of May, which is Asian Heritage Month and a time for people in Canada to combat anti-Asian racism and discrimination in all its forms.

The group has sent a letter to the Town of Newmarket detailing their serious concerns.

As of April 2022, the Town of Newmarket has implemented a “Personal Wellness Establishments (PWE)” by-law. This misguided by-law imposes tremendous barriers for Asian massage businesses in Newmarket, despite concerns being raised at each and every stage of the by-law review. Groups have been outspoken about our view that this by-law will have disproportionate impacts for low-income and non-English speaking women who make their living at these establishments.

“I chose to work in massage because my English is not good. I can only find low-wage work with bad working conditions with my limited English. Massage is the only skill I have that I can support my family and afford my cost of living,” says Maple Li, massage worker in Newmarket.

Specifically, the by-law requires that companies that offer alternative massage prove that attendants offering alternative massage services, many of whom have years of training and experience in other countries, have received training from an accredited institution in Canada.​​ The new by-law was driven by an unfounded concern that human trafficking occurs in Asian massage businesses. This is an unreasonable expectation and perpetuates the stereotype that Asian-owned businesses are “illegal” and “disreputable.”

Today, allied organizations are calling on the Town of Newmarket to stop enforcing this harmful by-law and repeal and review the discriminatory classification system it establishes. During the most recent application process, none of Newmarket’s pre-existing Asian massage businesses were approved for licensing. This is blatant racism in action. 

“Please don’t shut down our businesses so we can keep our jobs and earn money to support our families. I hope the government will stop discriminating and bias against us and let us continue our businesses,”  says Newmarket’s Massage Parlour Workers, in a joint letter to the city 

It isn’t just Asian workers and business owners who are speaking out — human rights and racial justice organizations have expressed many concerns throughout the consultation process. It is clear to all that the negative impacts on Asian women will be sweeping and wil include the forced closure of businesses, financial loss, and the loss of livelihood for working women and their families in the Newmarket community.

Groups say that Newmarket must reverse course and dismantle this discriminatory by-law, and respect and listen to Asian women and their allies who are being unfairly targeted. There is no time to waste.


Read the full letter here:


Additional Quotes:

“I have become more confident after I started working in this industry. Not only can I earn money to support my family, but I also can be a model for my children. Due to the lockdown of COVID-19, I did not make any money for the last two years, not even mentioning paying back my debts. Now the government is causing us lots of trouble. Will the government compensate us for such a huge loss? Is the government paying for the $4,500 monthly rent, electricity and internet fees and the money I owe my friends? Do they want to kill us ? What is the purpose of the government ? Why do they discriminate against us?”  (Ivy Lee, massage worker in Newmarket )

“My husband has needed someone to take care of him for a long time. He needs to see the doctor in the long-run. He tested COVID-19 positive twice. He has been struggling ever since. My source of income does not allow me to ask other people to take care of him. I was the only one taking care of him. And I am the only source of income for the whole family. If I work in Newmarket, I can easily take care of my husband. If I lose this job, my entire family will lose their only source of income. (Linda Song , an Asian massage worker who is forced to stop working in Newmarket)


Media Contact:

Elene Lam



Janet Butler-McPhee



About Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network)

Butterfly provides support to, and advocates for, the rights of Asian and migrant sex workers. The organization is founded upon the belief that sex workers are entitled to respect and basic human rights. Butterfly asserts that, regardless of their immigration status, Asian and migrant sex workers should be treated like all other workers.


About the HIV Legal Network

The HIV Legal Network (, formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, promotes the human rights of people living with, at risk of or affected by HIV or AIDS, through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education, and community mobilization.

Signatory List:
Action positive VIH-Sida
African and Caribbean Council on HIV in Ontario
AIDS Committee of Ottawa
Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention
AQUA (Asian Queer Alliance)
Asian Community AIDS Services
Alliance for Healthier Communities
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention
Black Legal Action Centre
Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
CAYR Community Connections
Chinese Canadian Collective
Chinese Canadian National Council (Toronto)
Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice
Collaborative Community Solutions
Elgin-Oxford Legal Clinic
Fife House
Friends of China Town (Toronto)
Gilbert Centre for Social and Support Services
Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion
Health Providers Against Poverty
Hemophilia Ontario
HIV Legal Network
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario

Lake Country Community Legal Clinic
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Moyo Health and Community Services
Neighbourhood Legal Services
Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy (Oahas)
Ontario AIDS Network (OAN)
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC)
Osgoode Hall Law Union
Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW)
Parkdale Community Legal Services
project 1907
Pozitive Pathways Community Service
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
SafeSpace London
Showing Up for Racial Justice (Toronto)
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
The AIDS Network
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre
Trellis HIV & Community Care
University of Toronto Law Union (UTLU)
Waterloo Region Community Legal Services
Women’s Health in Women’s Hands CHC
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
Workers’ Action Centre