Six doormen at Montreal's landmark Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel have been charged with extortion, intimidation and conspiracy for allegedly forcing taxi drivers to give them money in exchange for better-paying fares.

The hotel has suspended the doormen, who were arrested on Monday, pending the outcome of the investigation.


Montreal taxi drivers say hotel doormen often ask them for money in exchange for well-paying fares. ((CBC))

Police allege the doormen demanded anywhere from $5 to $30 from taxi drivers in exchange for picking up hotel clients, with the amount depending on how far the customer needed to go.

"The money they got throughout the day would be shared amongst the doormen," said Cmdr. Marc Saint-Cyr of Montreal police.

Many taxi drivers who spoke to CBC News on Friday said they are fed up with paying a cut of their fare to the doormen.

They said the practice is widespread across many Montreal hotels and has been around for decades.

"It's been happening for the 30 years since I have been in the business," said driver Thomas Janisz.

"Sometimes, I refused to give money. Sometimes, I had to [give money], because I had to bring milk to my children. So, I had to follow the pattern."

Complaints from drivers launched investigation

Stephen Jones, who has been driving a cab for 23 years, recalled one time he arrived at a downtown Montreal hotel, and a pair of Danish tourists were waiting for a cab.

'The doorman came over to me and whispered in my ear, "You owe me 10 bucks."' — Stephen Jones, Montreal taxi driver

He said the doormen told them that it wasn't their taxi. However, when Janisz said he was available, tourists started loading their luggage into his vehicle, much to the chagrin of the doorman.

"The doorman came over to me and whispered in my ear, 'You owe me 10 bucks'," Janisz said. "I looked at him and I said, 'Think again, brother.' They got in my cab, and we went off to Mirabel [airport]."

The practice sometimes goes both ways, he added. Some taxi drivers will tip a doorman in order to get favourable treatment, even at hotels where doormen don't ask for a cut of the fare.

Montreal police have been collecting complaints from taxi drivers for years about greedy doormen. They opened an investigation this summer after drivers at the Queen Elizabeth came forward.

Benoît Jugand, chief of the city's taxi and towing office, commended drivers for stepping forward.

"It's because of the courage of the taxi drivers who denounced the practice that this situation can return to normal at the hotel," Jugand said. "We hope that the results of the investigation will encourage other taxi drivers to denounce this behavior if it happens to them."

The doormen were reportedly released from police custody on a promise to appear in court at a later date.