When will the Authorities Wake Up?

A few years ago, in Walkerton, Ontario, an inspector was negligent, and the water supply was contaminated. The provincial government reacted by introducing sweeping, onerous, and unnecessary changes in water management across the entire province. On the other hand, the public regularly has invasive procedures performed in personal service settings, most of which are being performed by technicians with little or no training, and no concern for potential consequences. Provincial and municipal governments have systematically ignored the problems for two decades.

Yesterday I had an irate mother phone me for help. Her 15 year old daughter had received a tattoo from a local shop without parental consent.  I advised her to contact the police and see about laying charges, and to contact the City of Kingston Licensing Department and Bylaw Enforcement. Age limits are in a city licencing bylaw, and are a condition of licencing.

Today I was sent a link to a Toronto Star article, Tattoo, piercing technicians often lack hygiene training by Robert Cribb outlining a number of horror stories coming out of shops in the Toronto area. Mr Cribb has only scratched the surface. As a piercer I recognize that not only do the people described in his article not know how to prevent contamination of the clients, they also have never been trained to do the piercings in the first place. He also mentions that Toronto has just introduced licencing for tattoo and piercing shops.

Kingston has had licencing for a number of years. It came about after an incident at Blackstar which gained us a bit of national exposure. We received a call from a fellow who wanted to make an appointment to get genital piercings for his two 15 year old daughters. We made the appointment, and had the police sexual assault unit waiting for him when he arrived. (He was charged with  impersonating a parent, a criminal code offence). After this incident, Kingston defined tattoo and piercing shops as 'Beauty Salons'  under their licencing bylaw. They included a requirement that minors (under 18) had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian while in the shop, and any procedures required their permisssion. Unfortunately, the only part of this bylaw that is activly enforced is the requirement for the shop to pay the annual fee. They require a successful health inspection for the issuance of a licence, but they do NOT require that the license be suspended for health infractions.

At the time we were advocating licencing of the shop as well as licencing of the artist, and requirements and limitations on the licenses issued. There is precedent. Taxi and adult entertainer licenses are regulated to prevent cut-throat competition, and to bring the individuals' activities under control. However the City of Kingston rejected any industry input, and their bylaw changes are useless.

Mr  Cribb also mentions inconsistent enforcement across the province. He states "In Ottawa, health inspectors have not written any formal orders in the past three years ... " as one of his examples. If he had researched a little more he might have realized that this is because Ottawa probably has the most stringent enforcement of any jurisdiction in the province. Christian Lapensee of Ottawa, recognized as the provincial expert for piercing and tattoo establishments, is one of the few inspectors in Ontario who will not hesitate to exercise his full authority to enforce the regulations.  (Mr. Cribb does mention that there have been several 'voluntary' closures in Ottawa.) Health inspectors, in general, are afraid of beng sued, partly because the act they are enforcing is ambiguous. It was written by politicians who have no direct knowledge of the industry they are trying to regulate.

Tattooing and piercing (which I consider to be separate industries) have neither government regulation and oversight, nor peer reviewed standards and training. There are no academic requirements for becoming a tattooist or a piercer, and no standards which must be adhered to.  There is no recognized curriculum, no exam, and certainly no licencing requirements. Most get their 'knowledge' from the internet (a wealth of misinformation at best), and their 'training' by watching you-tube videos. The vast majority of tattooists and piercers have not even completed high school. It is an easy way to make money (from an unsuspecting public) and today the industry seems to attract people who are patently unemployable anywhere else.

A serious problem has been developing over the past 20 years, and the authorities seem to be reluctant to act. The public thinks they are protected, and react with anger when this proves not to be the case. However, they do not follow through. It is time the government took the next step before more incidents happen. Although the Ministry of Health may not want to get into regulating tattooing and piercing techniques and standards, the effort has to start someplace.

We need action before more people get hurt.

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