As Grand Prix approaches, Montreal hotels vigilant about sexual exploitation
RCMP, Montreal police campaign at border, in town to make sure everyone knows buying sex publicly is illegal
About 20 years ago, Nicolas Gibeau was working at a front desk in a hotel when a young girl came down and asked for a condom.
"She said, 'It's my first time, and I forgot to bring condoms.' She seemed extremely stressed, and I had no clue how to react, what to do," he said.
Gibeau wound up giving her the condom. The experience still gnaws at him today, but he admitted that if it happened again, he still wouldn't know how to react.
"I'm still not, 20 years later, knowledgeable enough, I still don't have the correct information or tools to act properly. That's what bothers me."
Gibeau now teaches at the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec, Montreal's hotel and restaurant training ground, and he wants to equip his students with that knowledge.
With Grand Prix weekend just around the corner, Montreal hotel staff are trying to play an active role in preventing sexual exploitation.
There are a few signs that should raise red flags for staff, including:
- A young girl accompanied by a much older man.
- Clients who insist on paying cash.
- Clients who repeatedly ask for their linens to be cleaned.
"We can't do it alone. We need help from police. We need help from ... [politicians], but we do need help from outside associations to help us work toward a solution."
Wrong approach, say advocates
Not everyone believes the hotel initiative is a good idea.
"Sex work is not necessarily exploitation, it's not inherently violent" said Sandra Wesley. "This is a continuation of this conflation of trafficking sexual exploitation and sex work, these initiatives really target all sex workers."
Wesley is the executive director of Chez Stella, an organization that advocates for the quality of life of sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work.
"Trying to find ways to be trained to survey and spot us and denounce us to the police, puts us in grave danger."
Instead, she said the best way hotels could help sex workers would be to welcome them more openly, instead of forcing them to hide when entering and exiting the building.
Police awareness campaign
Last year, 12 arrests were made for crimes related to sexual exploitation during the Grand Prix, including three people arrested after they purchased services from a minor, according to RCMP Const. Erique Gasse.
While he can't confirm whether sexual trafficking is on the increase, Gasse said it is definitely more prevalent during Grand Prix weekend.
For two years, the RCMP and Montreal police have collaborated on a campaign to raise awareness and to try to prevent sexual exploitation.
Officers patrol the airport, the border and the city to warn people that the public purchase of sexual services is a crime, Gasse explained.
Protecting those who need it
Because there are risks involved if they guess and get it wrong, staff do have to be careful, she said.
But she has no problem with dealing with complaints should a member of her staff mistakenly assume someone is being victimized.
"Yeah, it could go all the way to a lawsuit. What am I supposed to do? At least I tried to protect the person I thought needed protection," she said.
There are already rules in place in the U.S. In Connecticut, anyone working in a hotel is obliged to take a course to help them recognize if someone is being exploited. A similar bill is up for adoption in the state of New York.
With files from Jay Turnbull