The City of Vancouver is considering a harm-reduction approach to dealing with brothels that operate under the guise of massage parlours, which would include providing help to abused or exploited workers.

Vision Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang says massage parlours offering sex would be reclassified to avoid being confused with actual massage therapists. Currently, both are licensed under the "health enhancement" classification.

Businesses under the new category would then be visited regularly by inspectors, who will offer condoms, health advice and support for workers.

"Under current laws you're supposed to charge the prostitute with solicitation," Jang told CTV News. "If she's there against her will and forced to do it, we want to be able to say to that person, ‘We can help you get out of the trade and be safe.'"

Jang acknowledged that the legality of prostitution remains up to the federal government, but said the city is merely taking an "urban health approach."

Many municipalities and law enforcement agencies have already settled into an uneasy truce with the industry. In Burnaby, a massage parlour CTV caught on video offering illicit services, The Hawaiin Spa, sits right next to a police station.

Insp. Tim Shields of the Burnaby RCMP said police know "exactly what's going on" in the establishment, but said there are limited resources available to do anything about it.

"We are also cognizant of… the amount of time, effort and money it's going to take to conduct an undercover operation to get in there and the amount of evidence that's needed," Shields said.

Criminologists say the industry is thriving, with businesses offering sexual services located throughout major metropolitan areas. But police crackdowns don't necessarily help, often putting women on the street where they cause more disorder and are put in greater danger.

Along with the licensing overhaul, Vancouver is preparing for a possible legalization of prostitution. Five judges in Ontario's top court are currently considering whether Canada's anti-prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and endanger sex workers.

People in the sex industry are divided on the issue. Former sex trade worker Trisha Baptie says authorities must stand up and say women are not for sale, while current sex worker Sue Davis believes legitimizing sex work can help weed out exploitative forces.

"We need to shine a light in every single dark corner if we're going to eliminate the human trafficking and exploitation of youth in my industry," Davis said.

The judges are expected to take months to come to a decision. Whatever the outcome, the ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward