Saskatchewan hotel industry stepping up to help put an end to human trafficking

An initiative is being developed to raise awareness of human trafficking and institute training for hotel employees in Saskatchewan. File / Global News

The Saskatchewan hotel industry can play an important role in putting an end to human trafficking, according to the RCMP.

Police said it is a low-risk, high-reward crime for traffickers that is estimated to generate up to $336,000 annually in Canada off of a single sex trafficking victim, because they can be exploited and sold multiple times.

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“I think (human trafficking) is a big problem in Canada. I think Saskatchewan has its share of the problem,” said Jim Bence, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA).

“This is an industry that really preys upon women… and getting them into an industry in which (human traffickers) can make money off of them.”

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In a collaboration between RCMP and SHHA, an initiative is underway to institute processes and training programs that help employees recognize the signs of human trafficking and make appropriate responses.

Bence said the initiative is “the right thing to do” and the focus should be on helping those being exploited.

“In the past, I think we always looked at that kind of activity as prostitution… the old-school way of thinking would be that this person is engaged in illegal activity. To nowadays, these are victims being forced into an activity,” Bence said.

“It’s just the more you hear about it, the more you just think like… I got to have a shower. Like this is just awful… I’ve got daughters and … you just almost become overprotective. Because these are somebody’s daughters out there.”

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According to RCMP, there are an estimated 16,000 victims of human trafficking in Canada with only one per cent ever rescued. These traffickers often use violence, intimidation and deception to make victims do as they say and feel that they cannot escape their situation.

Although online advertisements show the majority of sex trade workers providing services in Regina and Saskatoon, police said there has been an increase in smaller communities like Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Weyburn, Swift Current, Estevan and North Battleford.

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Despite the rising number of reported incidents, investigators said human trafficking remains largely underreported and unnoticed, due in part to its deceptive nature.

“I think the way that (law enforcement) are approaching it now is just, it’s really fantastic… And we want to be able to support them as they help and assist these young ladies get out of the situations that they’re in,” Bence said.

“We’re able to play a part that may be positive in that. From a hotel industry perspective, just by even awareness, being able to report on different things, being able to sort of pay attention and really notice the activities, the patterns, the behaviours that are occurring and being able then to say, ‘we need to make a call.’”

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Hotels and motels are often the frontlines of human trafficking, according to RCMP, with rooms used to set up encounters between victims of sex and their purchasers.

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Bence said there’s no one-off to human trafficking but there are signs of the illegal activity.

“It’s really around what’s the length of stay and who’s checking into the room as opposed to who actually is paying for the room. Is there minors or younger ladies?” Bence said.

“It’s really having the front desk agents… keep a different type of eye on the customers that are coming through the lobbies… and then maintenance, of course, and housekeeping. How many requests are there for more linens?”

The laundry room at a Regina hotel. Kael Donnelly / Global News

Bence said Tony Elenis, the president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, has done work with Toronto police and they’ve gifted their program to be used as a template in Saskatchewan.

“So we’re looking at that right now as to how we can Saskatchewanize it, put it to Saskatchewan laws and our legislation and then be able to roll that out,” Bence said.

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“(The training) doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to be a four-hour program. It can be something that can be delivered in 45 minutes and with good discussion afterwards… it really could just start the awareness campaign off on good footing.”

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The training program is currently in the infancy stage.

Bence said the original intent was to reach about 300 hotel operators in the province, just to get the ball rolling.

He also suggested a small provincial task force, one or two people, to coordinate the efforts between law enforcement, the accommodation sector and support groups.

Anyone with information about a victim can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.

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