An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure


PART THREE in our series, feature from the WINTER 2024 issue of STAY Magazine

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This is the third instalment in our STAY Magazine series on human trafficking. This segment is focused on Canadian hoteliers and hotel employees and why they feel it is imperative to remain vigilant, outspoken and educated about this criminal activity that too often takes place in or around hospitality businesses.

Chelsea Hotel Toronto's approach to combat human trafficking in the hospitality industry

In conversation with Tracy Ford, director of public relations + Gary Myers, director of services and security

TRACY FORD AND GARY MYERS ARE EXPERIENCED HOSPITALITY PROFESSIONALS. With 55 years of combined experience working at Canada’s largest hotel (Chelsea Hotel Toronto has 1,590 guest rooms)—Ford and Myers have been integral to the growth and success of the hotel, sustaining its position in the city and the country as a destination hotel in one of Canada’s most bustling urban centres.

Being at the heart of a travel and tourism hub, both Ford and Myers, in their respective roles, recognize the need for vigilance around a taboo that comes with the territory of hotel operations—the shadowy reality of human trafficking within hotel premises. Ford and Myers, and Chelsea Hotel Toronto’s team of department heads, are staunch advocates for the prevention of human trafficking, as well as developing programs and support for staff members who are uniquely positioned to spot and report the signs of trafficking in the day-to-day hotel operations.

I spoke with Ford and Myers about the hotel's proactive strategies, with an emphasis on the pivotal role hotels can and must play in combating this pervasive issue. This article shines a light on Chelsea Hotel Toronto's unique perspective and multifaceted initiatives to prevent human trafficking and support victims of human trafficking.

We begin our discussion by defining the anonymity factor that enables human trafficking to thrive within hotel settings. Myers highlighted how traffickers strategically choose establishments by scouting establishments where anonymity is most achievable. Myers stressed that every single type of hotel, no matter how large or small, luxurious or not, is a potential target for traffickers. He then underscored the importance of training hotel staff, especially in housekeeping and security, to recognize signs of human trafficking.

Training sessions equip employees with guidelines on observing guest behaviour, identifying suspicious situations, and understanding when to involve law enforcement. The emphasis is on creating an environment where every staff member feels empowered and safe to report the signs of human trafficking whenever necessary, says Ford.

Insights from the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking reveal a disturbing pattern within the hospitality sector. Chelsea Hotel Toronto actively participated in the industry-specific analyses, exposing how traffickers exploit the transient nature of accommodations, Ford explains. Central to Chelsea Hotel Toronto's initiative is dispelling social norms that discourage intervention. The hotel actively encourages staff to engage with guests, probing for signs of distress. By fostering an environment where employees feel confident intervening, the hotel aims to contribute significantly to the broader fight against human trafficking.

Tracy Ford

Gary Myers

Myers shared a real-life scenario where the hotel successfully identified and intervened in a human trafficking situation. Security personnel played a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of an exploited young woman. Chelsea Hotel Toronto's commitment goes beyond removal; it involves collaboration with law enforcement to address the root causes of such incidents. Myers and other department heads at Chelsea Hotel Toronto operate as a well-informed and activated unit. They have fostered relationships with Toronto Police to ensure they too have support around deterring and reporting human trafficking activity on the hotel premises.

Myers highlighted the importance of positive reinforcement when staff report potential issues. Recognizing and praising individuals publicly in team meetings nurtures a culture where everyone understands the value of their contribution to maintaining a safe environment. The hotel emphasizes the collective responsibility of the entire team, instilling a sense of ownership and accountability.

It takes a village to stop human trafficking.

The hotel's collaboration with law enforcement is built on trust and shared goals. Regular communication channels ensure seamless information flow between the hotel team and law enforcement agencies. Internal reporting systems, like an emergency radio channel, serve as crucial tools for prompt reporting of suspicious activities.

Chelsea Hotel Toronto's approach transcends mere compliance with regulations; it reflects a moral imperative to create a safe environment.

By actively participating in the fight against human trafficking, the hotel sets an example for the industry. Through vigilance, training, and a commitment to ethical principles, Chelsea Hotel Toronto showcases the impact proactive measures can have on combating this deeply troubling issue within the hospitality sector.

Ottawa’s new immigration strategy, a missed opportunity to tackle human trafficking and exploitation?

In November 2023, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking (CCTEHT) and Covenant House Vancouver commended the Government of Canada for the development of a comprehensive strategy aimed at enhancing the management of the country’s immigration system. However, the organizations also say the strategy fell short as a missed opportunity to tackle human trafficking and exploitation.

Throughout 2023, CCTEHT reportedly worked closely to identify the gaps and challenges with Canada’s immigration system.

The federal government’s new strategy “An Immigration System for Canada’s Future: A Plan to Get Us There” includes many actions that closely align with the recommendations outlined in CCTEHT research and labour trafficking and international students policy briefs. Therefore, CCTEHT has called on the federal government to implement the proposed measures without further delay; and the government must work with human trafficking survivors, front-line service agencies, provinces and municipalities to ensure effective and efficient implementation of the many actions outlined in the strategy.

“The new strategy, while taking a positive step forward,” says Aziz Froutan, spokesperson for CCTEHT, “is also a missed opportunity to comprehensively address human trafficking and exploitation of newcomers, international students and migrant workers. The Centre and Covenant House Vancouver express their profound disappointment in the exclusion of critical actions such as Open Work Permits, family reunification, and a pathway to permanent residency for low-wage migrant workers. These measures are essential for protecting temporary foreign workers from abuse and reducing their isolation and family separation.”

Froutan suggests that Canada has created a permanent underclass of workers in this country. CCTEHT and Covenant House Vancouver subsequently reaffirmed an urgent appeal to the federal government to create a more equitable, fair, and human rights-based system; calling for the immediate implementation of Open Work Permits, support for family reunification, and the establishment of a clear pathway to permanent residency. “These measures are not only necessary but also aligned with our commitment to ensuring a just and inclusive society for all,” says Froutan.


Information contained in this article was provided by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Statistics Canada. Special thanks to Tracy Ford, Gary Myers, and Chelsea Hotel Toronto.

Read PART TWO in our series: The Elephant in the Room

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