Montreal

Montreal police enlist taxi drivers, hotel staff in campaign against sexual exploitation

Montreal police want taxi drivers and hotel staff to contact authorities if they spot a possible case of sexual exploitation.

New program goes by the French acronym RADAR which means 'identify, act, denounce, help and restore'

Montreal police are particularly focused on situations that involve minors "trained in prostitution networks," says Cmdr. Michel Bourque. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal police want taxi drivers and hotel staff to contact authorities if they spot a possible case of sexual exploitation.

To ensure workers in the hospitality and transportation industry come forward if they spot suspicious activity, the SPVM launched a pilot project last year that began by building partnerships with local hotels.

Now, two weeks before the Montreal Grand Prix, an event during which human trafficking and prostitution incidents increase dramatically, that pilot project has become a program called RADAR — a French-language acronym meaning "identify, act, denounce, help and restore."

The SPVM has partnered with police services in Laval and Longueuil, as well as the Association des hôtels du Grand Montréal, the Montreal's taxi bureau, Sun Youth and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

Pimps often use hotel and taxi services and authorities want workers in those industries to know what to watch out for.

Police in Montreal, Laval, and Longueuil will be offering awareness sessions to employees in those industries — helping them to understand the warning signs of sexual exploitation.

Police are particularly focused on any cases involving minors.

"Montreal, like any other North American or European city, attracts a lot of offers of sexual services at different levels," Cmdr. Michel Bourque told Radio-Canada.

Bourque heads Montreal's anti-pimping unit. He described RADAR as a "great program" that provides awareness training to people in all levels of the lodging business, from front desk clerk to cleaning staff.

Looking for anything out of the ordinary

Bourque said they are trained to look for different types of behaviours that are out of the ordinary. 

Out-of-ordinary behaviours that lodging staff should be on the lookout for include, for example, a large amount of condoms left in a room after somebody checked out or people that stay in their rooms for several days without leaving.

"Those are all signs we are giving to employees," Bourque said. From there, he said, employees are taught how to handle and report the situation.

"A lot of people see things. And this gives us a chance to shed a lot of light on a very anonymous type of business and gives us an opportunity to detect victims that could be in danger or at least met with to see if they are being exploited." 

Staff are also taught about the various reporting tools available, but any dangerous or life-threatening situations should be reported to 911 immediately, he said.

Major events attract pimps and sex workers

Any major event such as the Grand Prix has the potential to attract sexual exploitation and the Montreal police department has a plan to respond, Bourque said.

He called the current situation of sexual exploitation a "domestic phenomenon" as the victims often come from the Montreal area and the clients are mostly from Quebec.

While some are brought in, many victims are Quebec residents being transported out of the province, he said. They are brought to other regions in Canada to be exploited.

"We want to make sure we attack this problem on an annual basis," he said.

There has been an increase in the amount of cases the department is handling not just because of police investigative work, but also because of the department's partnership with local organizations.

In 2015, the department treated about 80 cases annually, he said, and in 2017, the department treated 319 cases. At the same time, arrest rates went up from 25 to 65 annually in 2017. The department is still tabulating numbers for 2018.

"We must denounce" those who exploit victims, Bourque said, and those victims must be taken "out of this environment."

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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