Young women travel from Canada's east to work as private escorts in western provinces because the money's better, but their unfamiliar surroundings can make them dependent on the virtual strangers commissioned to be their bodyguards on such trips.
These and other shady aspects of Canada's underground interprovincial sex trade came into full view in a Winnipeg courtroom Tuesday at a Lachute, Que., man's prostitution and drug-related trial.
Jonathan Allard, 35, has pleaded not guilty to charges of living off the avails of prostitution from two 19-year-old Quebec women, as well as allegations he trafficked cocaine to them.
Allard has been in custody in Manitoba since June 17, when police arrested him in a room at the Humphry Inn and Suites on Main Street. Police have never publicly revealed details of the arrest or their investigation, which was initially eyed by investigators as a possible human-trafficking case.
Winnipeg police went to the hotel to follow up a tip forwarded by Montreal RCMP.
A sister of one of the women had emailed the RCMP to say her relative was being held there against her will, Winnipeg Const. Louis Norris testified Tuesday.
Evidence of sex-trade work, less than two grams of powder cocaine and "score sheets" were found after police turned up to check on her well-being, court was told.
Allard was arrested in one of three suites police searched in the investigation. Police found his name on hotel receipts seized from two rooms on the same floor, Const. Kevin Pleskatch of the counter-exploitation unit testified. More than $1,500 in cash was also seized.
Allard, who professed to be a part-time concrete worker and strip-club bouncer making about $5,000 a week, testified he was asked by an Ottawa escort agency to be the women's bodyguard on a trip from Ottawa to Winnipeg and Alberta.
He found himself with time off work and decided to go along, the bodybuilder told court after taking the witness stand in his own defence.
The women, one of whom had no identification, came on the trip voluntarily, court heard.
Their sexual services were being advertised online -- a development partially financed by Allard's credit card -- but he didn't have anything to do with setting up dates, he said.
He conceded he fronted the cost of gas and lodging for the trip which the women reimbursed him for. He also said he would expect to receive some kind of compensation, possibly in the form of a gratuity, from his escort-service contact -- named only as "Jenny" in court -- at the end of the trip.
It's these two aspects of his testimony that Crown attorney Paul Cooper said proves Allard is guilty of the prostitution offences. The women gave him money and he knew what they did involved the sale of sex, Cooper charged.
"Mr. Allard knows when he leaves Ottawa ... it wasn't to see the sights," said Cooper. "He admits he's going to get paid for the time." Even though nobody dragged the women into the situation, they had little ID with them, didn't know a soul out west and had no ready means to get home, Cooper said.
"It has to be exploitation. It has to be," he told provincial court Judge Tracey Lord.
Defence lawyer Stephen Friesen took a much different view, arguing there was no "parasitic" relationship between Allard and the women.
"They went voluntarily. This was not a controlling situation," he said. "The evidence that is before this court is they were embarking on this venture voluntarily with no coercion whatsoever."
Lord will decide the case on Jan. 10.