TORONTO — Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, became aware of the issue of Human Trafficking in hotels after hearing a speaker from the London Police Department.
“A couple of years ago, London's ORHMA chapter had a presentation from the local police, directly focusing on human trafficking. Our industry is at a point where we need to understand that this is a problem,” Elenis told CLN. “It's as big as drugs; as big as guns.”
“We're not talking about prostitution,” he explained. “We're talking about forced sex for individuals. Ninety per cent of the victims are Canadian-born, and 70 per cent are 25 and under. There are many ways to bring people into this area — [pretending] passionate love for example — but it's strategically organized to make money.”
Hotels are a conducive climate for the human traffickers. They offer rooms; they're transient; people can move from one room to another, one hotel to another, one town or province to another. “It's tough for authorities to be successful [at stopping them],” Elenis said. “There should be zero tolerance of this happening in hotels in Canada, which is a progressive country.”
Summit on Human Trafficking
Elenis was recently asked by the Hotel Association of Canada to represent hotels at a Summit on Human Trafficking in Ottawa. The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency
Preparedness, reaffirmed the Government of Canada's commitment to preventing
and combatting human trafficking and supporting victims and survivors at a
national summit organized by Public Safety Canada.
The summit brought together
expert stakeholders, including law enforcement organizations; provinces and
territories; victims and survivors; Indigenous organizations; academics; and criminal
justice and victim service providers to share their knowledge and insight on
this issue. The summit was the culmination of three regional roundtables held
last month in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal.
“Participants included technology innovators, authorities, governments and a few private sector representatives. There were lots of victims and service providers to support the victims,” Elenis said.
What can be done?
Awareness and Education for hoteliers. ORHMA, working with Terry Mundell of the Greater Toronto Hotels Association (GTHA), have a program in place with the Toronto Police Department. “Hotels in Toronto went through the training, and chief Mark Saunders gave the introduction to the course. The course gives a set of indicators to help train people in key positions — including front desk, housekeeping and security — to help identify whether sexual trafficking is going on,” said Elenis. “For example, if a bartender sees someone shouting, if there is someone moving in and out of a room on their cell phone, if there are females who are dressed to look older than their ages, or men going in and out of a room — to get on the line to call the authorities.”
Alerting fellow hoteliers — In London, there is very basic communication for the whole group of hoteliers to alert them that there is a possible human trafficker at their door.
More power for victims and families — Laurie Scott, who is now Minister of Labour for Ontario, was influential in drafting a bill to ensure training for judges on how to treat the victims. “They don't always see if from the victim's side,” said Elenis. “First victims have to deal with law enforcement, then the preliminary trial, then the trial with the offender in the room with his friends and family to make him look good. They also face threats to family — often in other countries where [victims] have no control.”
Scott championed Bill 96, The Anti-Human Trafficking Act, 2017, which, gives more power to victims of human trafficking and their families. Victims and their families will now be able to apply for a protection order from a justice of the peace, which means there will be criminal consequences for traffickers who break the order and come anywhere near their victims.
Role of technology in collaboration — There's a great need for enforcement groups to work closely together. While law enforcement agencies have come a long way in terms of technology to communicate regarding offenders, “they're a long way away yet,” said Elenis.
Police departments — Elenis pointed out that in some cities, enforcement officers are passionate about this issue, but they're understaffed and don't have the necessary resources. They also need education, awareness and training and follow-up training because of staff turnover.
“I'm passionate about this,” said Elenis. “Bill 96 addresses the technical aspect and I'm glad Public Safety Canada has moved on it. I do know the hotel industry is starting to be aware of this issue, and some brands have moved forward on it.
“If an operator is found to know about human trafficking, they are liable for prosecution. We have to make sure we address these issues everywhere.”
Hoteliers can prevent:
Further victimization of young females
Offenders committing criminal acts in hotels
Potential damage to hotel rooms
Home-invasion-style robberies being committed against female
victims in hotel rooms with firearms and other weapons
Serious risk to other hotel patrons due to criminal activity
Civil liability due to injuries caused by criminal activity
Loss of reputation to the general public that will affect their hotel
More information on sex trafficking in hotels.