Canadians in Jamaica's Montego Bay warned to stay within resorts

The Canadian government warns against travelling to the popular Jamaican destination of Montego Bay, and if you're already there, to remain in the resorts due to an increase in violent crime.

Jamaican government declares emergency and deploys military forces to area after spike in murders, thefts

Tourists having fun on the sea at Doctor's Cave Beach Club, Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Canadian government has warned tourists in the area to remain within their resort due to a spike in violent crimes. (Shutterstock)

The Canadian government is warning tourists in the popular Jamaican destination of Montego Bay to remain in their resorts due to an increase in violent crime.

Travel Canada issued the warning after the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency and deployed military forces to the island's St. James Parish after a spike in thefts and murders.

The Canadian advisory says there have been reports of alleged sexual assaults at tourist resorts that were carried out by resort staff and, in some cases, by other tourists.

It warns sun seekers to avoid travelling to the area, citing "an extreme risk to your personal safety and security," and to remain within the resort compounds if you're already there.

"If you are staying at a resort in the affected area, restrict your movements beyond resort security perimeters. If you do travel outside these perimeters, use transportation arranged or provided by the resort," the advisory says.

"If you are in the affected area, be extremely vigilant, follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor local news."

'Holding the country to ransom'

According to the Jamaica Observer, Thursday's declaration of a state of public emergency was immediately supported by the People's National Party, the official opposition in Jamaica's Parliament. The state of emergency will remain in effect for at least 14 days or as long as three months, the news outlet reported.

 The Jamaican Chamber of Commerce backed the move, according to the Observer. 

"The implementation of the state of emergency under the nation's constitutional provisions is appropriate in light of the grave danger posed by gangs and individuals who have, for too long, been holding the country to ransom, and threatening the gains arising from the difficult but necessary economic policies put in place by successive administrations," the chamber said. 

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has told Jamaicans that the security forces being deployed to St. James have extra powers and some rights are being suspended but that the rule of law still applied. 

"Crime and violence, in particular murders, have been escalating in the Parish of St. James," Holness said in a public address."I have been advised by the security forces, in writing, that the level of criminal activity experiences, continued and threatened, is of such a nature, and is so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety."

The U.S. embassy in Kingston has issued a warning advising U.S. citizens that the 1966 Emergency Powers Act allows Jamaican security forces in St. James Parish to "arbitrarily detain and deport suspicious persons, enter premises and seize property with a warrant."

"Expect to encounter increased police and military presence, checkpoints, and searches of persons and vehicles within the borders of St. James Parish," the U.S. embassy said. 

The embassy is advising its citizens to co-operate with police and military forces, monitor local media for updates on the situation and to expect travel delays.

Anyone witnessing criminal activity in Jamaica should use local emergency numbers including the crime stopper hotline 311 or the security forces hotline 830-8888, the Observer reported. 

Debbie White, senior vice-president for Unique Vacations, the independent marketing firm that represents Sandals Resorts International, said her organization is "actually applauding the government for their continued safety measures within the area."

"Our guests are our highest priority for us in terms of security and we're open and ready to accept our customers and in no way will their vacation experience be affected by this," White said.