SEPT-ÎLES, Que. — For some, it's a way to make some fast cash. For others, it's a chance to latch on to an engineer for maybe more than one night.
The "world's oldest profession" has always found a niche in proximity to large-scale projects that require thousands of workers — where men are alone, isolated from their families and earning a big salary. It’s no different along Quebec’s North Shore, with the advent of Plan Nord, a provincially funded strategy to develop natural resources in northern Quebec, mostly in the mining and energy sectors. Launched in 2011 by former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, it’s targeted at getting major corporations to invest big bucks in an area three times the size of France.
And prostitutes are hoping to take advantage of a resource boom, using classified ads and dating sites to offer their services.
One online ad is from a woman we’ll call “Claudie.” Looking to attract North Shore guys, her piercing eyes promise them seventh heaven. Oral sex is $40 and sex is $100 an hour, and she will provide a receipt if the client chooses to get a massage.
Claudie, who leaves Saguenay by car, will pick up a client on the way near highway 138. Those who want to can meet her at the destination, a motel in Baie-Comeau. She likes her work and told The Huffington Post Québec that it was a job like any other.
Increased mining activity and an influx of temporary workers attracts girls working solo like Claudie, who prefer to drive or take the plane and then shut themselves in a motel room for several days, enough time to make a heap of cash.
A North Shore women’s association hears this type of story on a regular basis. "There are girls, often very young, who run away or disappear to make some money," communications co-ordinator Marilène Gill said.
"Prostitution is taboo. We don't see it. There are people who say it is there, others who turn a blind eye, and still others who simply don't know. But I don't have any proof," adds Michèle Audette, who was president of the Native Women's Association of Canada at the time of the interview. She is now seeking to run for the Liberals in the next election.
At the famous Fer-thèque, the only strip club in the North Shore region, you are as likely to meet city councillors having a drink as temporary workers who've come to get an eyeful. A fresh group of girls arrives every Wednesday by bus.
"The bar is doing well and the girls go there in hopes of latching on to an engineer. It becomes almost a way out. It's almost a casting agency, booking girls," says Louise Dubreuil, whose office co-ordinates sexual health outreach on behalf of the local health department.
ArcelorMittal employees are known as big spenders at the strip club, often up to $1,000 in a single night, sources told HuffPost Québec.
Prostitution goes unmentioned in Fermont, a small town of nearly 2,900, just like everywhere else in the North Shore region.
The construction workers and others are under close observation and are subject to regular workplace testing to check for alcohol or drug use. Instead, they can obtain the services of women passing through the region. On a website for adult hookups, you find, for example, a "milf in&out" who promises to "make Fermont come by appointment."
Elsewhere on a site with classified ads, in the female escort category, a woman who says she is 20 and from St. John's, Nfld., announces she will be in Fermont for three days, and includes pictures.
The 2011 census shows men already outnumber women in Fermont, not including the flow of male temporary workers who further skew the gender balance. Unfortunately, the rules of supply and demand apply in Fermont, Gill laments.
Social workers sounded the alarm in 2012, after then-Premier Jean Charest unveiled the Plan Nord economic strategy to develop the natural resources sector. They decried the influx of strippers and prostitutes travelling to Quebec’s mining sites in the North Shore region.
Manicouagan-Côte-Nord MP, Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, had also spoken about the emergence of prostitution in his region, a "new" phenomenon at the time. A number of articles appeared at the time addressing drug trafficking and rape at the Romaine construction site, as well as the effects on small neighbouring towns.
The site has only one ATM, with a capacity of $70,000, according to recent information brought to his attention. And the machine is emptied only three days after being filled, reveals the NDP MP, who raises questions about Hydro-Quebec's transparency on this issue.
"What are they buying with all that cash? It's a question that deserves further study, that's for sure.”
The large-scale construction sites are closed to social workers, which makes it difficult to get a clear idea of the situation. But certain indicators don't lie, according to several people interviewed, especially the numbers of cases of chlamydia, and sexual assaults above the 49th parallel.
While the price of iron is at an historic low and mine closures are hurting the economy, sex is a resource that always remains renewable and profitable.
The Huffington Post Québec wanted to see how easy it is for a sex worker to find clients on the Web.
Through a fake profile created on a hookup site, our username Lilibizou received two offers to meet for sex within less than 24 hours, using a rather typical profile description for a 22-year-old girl.
The first potential client made contact through a private message. The man lives in Fermont, is married and is nearly 40 years older than Lilibizou.
After a few exchanges, he accepted our price, on condition that he see photos of the merchandise on Facebook. The wait makes him impatient and he even promises a bonus if Lilibizou proves worthwhile.
The second potential client was a consultant for ArcelorMittal. Also older than Lilibizou, he became insistent about Skyping with her and became angry when she didn't answer quickly enough on instant message. One thing was certain, he wanted to see her when she was going to be in Fermont.
The Lilibizou account has since been deleted. The two men did not answer our requests for a formal interview.
Also on HuffPost: