A Message to Toronto Tattoo Artists, Industry Professionals and Others

Dear Tattoo Shop Owner / Operator:

As you may or may not be aware, the City of Toronto is about to enact legislation regarding the operation of Personal Service Settings (PSS), which include but are not limited to, tattoo and piercing establishments, nail salons and electrolysis clinics. The legislation proposes to

a) license all PSS where there is a risk of infectious disease transmission;
b) require a public health inspection prior to the opening of all new PSS operations;
c) require PSS operators of premises where there is the risk of infectious disease transmission to post inspection results;
d) require PSS to comply with the Medical Officer of Health’s infection and control recommendations; and,
e) require infection prevention and control training for PSS operators (developed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care).

As Tattoo Artists, we of course wish to work with the cooperation and endorsment of our local health authorities, for the benefit of our clients, for the health and safety of the general public and for the ongoing growth and recognition of tattooing as an art form. The proposed legislation, however well intentioned, raises some serious concerns within our community for a number of reasons. The first of these is the issue of licensing. Initially, Toronto Public Health stated that the sole purpose of licensing was to allow health inspectors to identify the location of tattoo shops and to ensure that they were inspected on a timely, regular basis. An online poll conducted on behalf of Toronto Public Health as part of their stakeholder consultation process however, indicates that the issuing of a license and license renewal will be contingent on compliance with health inspection recommendations. Licensing will be administered by Municipal Licensing and Standards, an entirely different branch of municipal government, which may be empowered to enact other, as yet undisclosed controls of the licensing process. It is imperitive that we, as a community, insist that licenses shall be issued unconditionally, and used only to identify the location of tattoo establishments for inspection purposes. It is our position that there is no such thing as a license to create art.

With regard to the proposal that PSS operators post inspection results we are generally in agreement. It is our understanding however, that the intended model will be based on the existing “DineSafe” program, which issues green (pass) yellow (conditional) or red (fail) postings. A yellow, or conditional pass sign displayed would be a literal kiss of death for any tattoo establishment. It has been our experience over the past few years that health inspections have been conducted by individuals who, by the nature of the questions they ask, often indicate that they know little or nothing about the tattooing process. There has been little or no communication from Toronto Public Health with regard to newly added protocols or inspection requirements, and a number of us have noted a wide range of inconsistancy in the enforcment and understanding of existing regulations on the part of health inspectors. All of these factors, combined with apparently ever increasing inspection criteria almost guarantee conditional or yellow passes. It is our position therefore, that inspection result postings be limited to pass or fail, and that the criteria for these designations be limited to critical issues where the health and safety of the client is reasonably at risk. (improper sterilization, lack of barrier control, improper skin prep, unsanitary conditions, etc.)

The requirement to comply with the Medical Officer of Health’s infection prevention and control recommendations seems, at face value to be a logical and reasonable proposition, and most of us already unquestioningly abide with existing regulations or recommendations. What is problematic with this proposal is that there is no limit placed in the proposed legislation as to what these recommendations may be in the future, essentially giving Toronto Public Health absolute, unfettered control over virtually every aspect of our operations not already controlled by the previously mentioned Municipal Licensing and Standards Dept. If this legislation is passed in its current form, we will not be permitted to question or dispute anything Toronto Public Health demands we do, regardless of how ridiculous or unnecessary simply because “it’s the law.” For this reason, we propose that the legislation be amended to read “require PSS operators to comply with the Medical Officer of Health’s infection prevention and control recommendations where there is a reasonable and demonstrable risk to the health and safety of the client or of the spread of communicable disease.” This will allow us, as operators and artists, to have some input over the imposition of regulations that may not be critical to the interest of client safety, but are more focused on theoretical possibilities rather than realistic probabilities, or the protection of health units from potential liability.

Most of us, as artists, simply wish to be left in peace to continue our work and focus on what we do best. It is an unfortunate side effect of the growth of our chosen art form and the proliferation of tattoo shops throughout the GTA and for that matter throughout the world, that legitimate concerns over safety and regulation will be raised by various levels of government. It is important at this stage to demand involvement in whatever regulatory process unfolds, or we will have no voice in determining our future.

Please contact us at: torontotattoo@gmail.com