Editor’s Note: Many activist groups protest Montreal’s Grand Prix event because, they say, it encourages the trafficking and solicitation of minors. This report does not deny the existence and prevelance of illegal activity at the Grand Prix or attempt to diminish the efforts of those working to end the trafficking of minors. Instead, this report focuses on the work of consenting adults of legal age.

It’s mid-June at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve race track on Montreal’s Notre Dame Island, home of the Canadian Grand Prix, and a beautiful day by French Canadian standards. Since 1967, the Canadian Grand Prix has been part of the Formula 1 World Championship, a racing series whose parent organization has pulled in more than $16 billion since 2000. After alternating between towns, this so-called “Nascar for millionaires” found its permanent home in Montreal, a busy but charming French-English city some 100 miles from Vermont’s border that’s become known as the “Sex Capital of Canada.” That’s because in just the past few years, this city of four million, which just so happens to be the birthplace of Pornhub, has stepped up its erotic game with more burlesque clubs, gentlemen’s clubs, brothels, massage parlors and escorts burrowing into Montreal’s culture than ever before.

It is widely known, at least among locals, that Grand Prix weekend is the busiest for the city’s sex workers, and that’s why I’m here: to absorb the scene and talk to the women who participate in a line of work that toes the line of legality. Selling sex won’t land you in jail in Montreal, but buying it will. I want to find out for myself if this yearly fete, which brings the city $90 million in tourism money alone, is a blessing or a curse for the city’s sex workers who have few legal protections. More than that, I want to probe whether the anti-prostitution protestors who stack the streets every year understand what they’re rallying against.

Several members of Montreal’s government recently spoke out about what they deem as the increased exploitation of women during a noticeably masculine week of partying and racing, and with support from the local government. Last year, activists groups and the province of Quebec funded an ad campaign near the Grand Prix declaring "Buying sex is not a sport”; every year, local law enforcement announces it’ll have an increased presence at popular sex tourism spots. Nonetheless, the Canadian government just pledged nearly $100 million to keep the F1 race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, its home since 1978, through 2029. That pledge is a major bid to make Montreal the unofficial home of Formula 1 racing in North America, ahead of Austin, where the Grand Prix vists October 20-22, and Mexico City, which hosts the race October 27-29.

“Ninety percent” of Montreal’s sex workers are “adults who want to” practice in this profession.

But can protests of “sex is not a sport” be effective when most city inhabitants acknowledge that the event and its wealthy attendees benefit the local economy? This year alone, more than 500,000 people have shown up for the races and events surrounding them. Models dress for attention and foreign men, energized by a fat wallet and the adrenaline that comes with attending a high-priced, fast-paced competition, have left their best behavior at home. That’s one detail that makes the Montreal Grand Prix noticeably different from more regular sporting events and speedway races in the United States; attendees are overwhelming male, and many carry exorbitant amounts of money.

Shanie Roy, a self-proclaimed “prostitution survivor”, is one notable protestor at the Grand Prix this year. She’s says wealthy out-of-towners put Montreal’s female sex workers in danger. “They ask for more,” she says. “They really want to have [a good] trip and a bigger experience. They will insist to have something, and they won’t respect [a woman’s] limits.” Roy’s sentiments echo those of many protestors at the Grand Prix who allege that female sex workers have no say over who they interact with, nor what they do with them.

One of the prevailing arguments against legal sex work is that all women would chose office work over sex work if they had an opportunity to choose. The dominating argument at the Canadian Grand Prix, however, is that sex work is bad because the women working are trafficked. This argument is supported by prostitution activist groups like FEMEN, an international women’s movement, that clump together sex work and trafficking, even though the two are in no way synonymous.

That stance is often emphasized by portrayals of sex workers in pop culture. On TV, in video games and in film, sex workers are often depicted as being so emotionally traumatized that they can’t make healthy decisions for themselves, and those who buy their services are depicted to be drug addicts, depressed or cheaters. That or they will end up with an STI, because sex workers are incapable of having safe sex, apparently.

Those opposing legal sex work also tend to overlook that not all providers operate equally. It’s a tiered industry, from street walkers who own their blocks to high-end call girls who refuse to meet anywhere outside of a five-star hotel. Finally, protestors often overlook the most important fact: a huge percentage of capable, adult women consciously choose sex work over conventional careers like teaching, waitressing or pencil pushing. One local source I talk to, for example, estimates that “90 percent” of Montreal’s sex workers are “adults who want to” practice in this profession.

Before becoming an escort, Bianca Jaguar was a body builder. Now, Jaguar runs her own business and clients book directly through a website she owns. There, she politely outlines her rules of engagement. Like most women at her level in the escort world, she’s confident, in charge and would obviously decline a request if it didn’t suit her. At 55 years old, she says she’s proud to be able to support herself as someone else’s “mature companion.”

“I’ve never met any sex worker underage or anyone [who has] been forced,” she tells me. Despite the negative publicity sex work receives during the Grand Prix, Jaguar says it doesn’t have negative effects on business, at least not within her network. The muscular blonde has met plenty of “smart ladies,” she says, and believes that women in this line of work are sound enough to determine what’s best for them. “I don’t believe all sex workers are being violated or have been. Yes, we’re in the business because it’s lucrative, but also because we enjoy the freedom it gives us.”

No matter if they’re an escort, dancer or call girl, they all admonish others who threaten their lifestyle because most sex work is not forced.

Clearly, freedom—what FEMEN and other anti-prostitution protestors claim sex workers do not have—is what Jaguar appreciates the most about her job. Not only is she her own boss, but Jaguar says she’s had a negative encounter at the Grand Prix. In fact, she fondly recalls a specific memory of “a younger gentleman from Toronto who was delightful company.”

Like many sex workers, Jaguar supports the right protestors have to organize but wishes “they realized that most of us are of legal age and chose to be in this industry. I feed my family and pay my bills working as a courtesan. I love my work.” If something did change, and if all sex workers were no longer able legally earn a living, she says “it would be devastating, like anyone who loses their job.” Her job would not be an easy one to replace; most sex workers don’t have a resume that could easily secure them in a lucrative, “normal” job, Jaguar admits.

So, what about workers in other facets of the industry? Massage parlors line the streets of Montreal like churches outline the Bible Belt and police are indeed abundant at the Grand Prix. But not a single law enforcement officer—or passersby—give a second look. Why are parlors, and other adult entertainment services where sexual services may be sold, allowed to operate so visibly without issue, despite the city’s increased police presence?

Chez Paree is located off Stanley Street, conveniently in the Golden Square Mile, where Grand Prix street festivities take place. It’s considered the best gentlemen’s club in Montreal; lines outside the club snake down the street every night of the Grand Prix. Inside, a couple of Chez Paree’s dancers tell me just how packed it’s been every night.

One is a twentysomething student studying gender studies at McGill University. She describes herself as a feminist and says her line of work is a great way to make the money she needs to afford school with a schedule that doesn’t conflict with her university schedule. Another, a mixed-race beauty also in her late twenties, says dancing at Chez Paree allows her plenty of free time to spend with her daughter. It’s important for her to make time for her daughter, she says, and other jobs don’t offer the same good money on a part-time schedule.

During Grand Prix weekend, club management requires them to work extra hours to accommodate the huge flocks of male patrons who line up nightly to see beautiful nude women slither and spin their way around on stage. Do the dancers like it? Not necessarily. “More bodies doesn’t necessarily mean more money,” says one. A lot of men come to watch the show, but they don’t buy one-on-one sessions. That’s not how dancers prefer to spend their time, but they accommodate their manager’s request because Chez Paree is a very good club and they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Although many protestors at Grand Prix argue that because men want more, women have to work harder, what protestors don’t seem to understand is that extra work is just that: extra. Even if they are putting in more hours, they’re doing it in a protected environment and because they believe it’s worth it, just as any employee would put in extra hours when their boss asks them to meet a deadline. “I don’t understand it,” says the McGill student. She believes protestors need to leave women who profit from the business out of their cause. Her work is safe: police even come in to check IDs to ensure that nobody inside the club—both the entertainers and the patrons—is underage. Employees explain that they feel good knowing staff and security watch out for them. They acknowledge that other venues may be “dirtier,” but that isn’t the norm.

Police, I’m told, drop in to massage parlors, too. If they suspect someone is being forced to work illegally, or if they have warrants, law enforcement will intervene. Otherwise, the general attitude from the Montreal’s police toward establishments specializing in adult entertainment seems to be “live and let live.”

Most women I talk to seem healthy and generally happy. More important, no matter if they’re an escort, dancer or call girl, they all admonish others who threaten their lifestyle because they fail to recognize that most sex work is not forced. Although the Grand Prix in Montreal likely brings an increase in illegal activity, so does any special event in any city. What makes the Canadian Grand Prix different, then is that is brings in a great deal of legal sex activity that appears to be, more than anything, beneficial to the economy as well as to the majority of the city’s legal-age, consenting sex workers.