Quebec's consumer watchdog, the Office de la protection du consommateur (OPC), confirmed that the Sunwing party flight organizer doesn't have a travel agent license.
28-year-old James William Awad is the man behind 111 Private Club, the members-only organization responsible for the trip to Tulum.
In a statement shared with MTL Blog, the OPC cited section two of Quebec's Loi sur les agents de voyages, which defines a travel agent as "any person, corporation or association who, on behalf of others or its members" arranges or offers travel, travel reservations or lodging reservations.
Section four states that "no person shall transact business as a travel agent, hold the title of travel agent or give reason to believe that he or she is a travel agent" without a license.
It is not clear whether Awad ever offered or claimed to offer travel agent services, but in a January 6 statement, he said he had "chartered a private aircraft and private transportation" for the group of influencers and reality television stars.
The OPC did not make any conclusions in its statement, but said it was looking into the case and takes the matter "very seriously."
The agency further stated that anyone found guilty of violating section four of the law could be fined between $600 and $15,000.
Three other businesses tied to Awad, gyms in Montreal, Laval and Blainville, have received notices of violation from the OPC for allegations related to credentials. The office said the notices "mention that he cannot operate a health studio without holding the permit required by law."
In the January 6 statement, Awad said that the Tulum trip was his "first travel event."
"The 111 private club is a dream and a vision that I poured my heart and soul into creating," he wrote.
"I have significantly learned, and I am still learning from this experience. Learning from them is what makes the difference."
The passenger seen on video vaping aboard that infamous Sunwing flight to Cancun has apologized for her actions and said she's ready to face any consequences. The woman, whom the Journal de Montréal has identified as Vanessa Sicotte, took to her Instagram story on Tuesday night to address followers.
She said she had been the target of death threats and insults since the story of the Sunwing flight spread on social media.
"To start, I'd like to sincerely apologize to all those who may have been disappointed by this situation," she wrote. "To see a group of young people together going to Mexico while Quebecers are in confinement upset many."
Sicotte identifies as a pilot in her Instagram bio. The Journal has reported that she's currently studying aviation.
In her Tuesday night message, Sicotte specifically apologized to her friends in the industry and loved ones, saying her actions "did not paint a nice image of who [she] can be."
During Monday's episode of the Quebec TV show La semaine des 4 Julie, the mother of Rebecca St-Pierre, one of the passengers on the infamous Sunwing flight, came forward to testify and make a public apology.
St-Pierre's mother said she did not agree with her daughter going on the trip organized by 111 Private Club.
"I objected to that trip, but I did everything. I threatened her that I wouldn't drive her back to Montreal and I was like 'She's going to come back,' because a day before, she tested positive [for COVID-19] in Quebec City. She was tested at the hotel in Montreal, but she was negative," Cyr said.
"I told her, 'Rebecca, something is going to happen, nothing is free in life.' It's tempting for a 19-year-old girl who has never been on a plane, who has never travelled, who has never been to the South."
The mother added: "I might have done the same thing she did at 19, but there was no COVID."
On January 5, while the Sunwing party flight started making headlines across the country, St-Pierre sent a plea for help to the gossip account @od_scoop on Instagram for support since she was alone in Mexico. She shared another post the next day admitting that she had tested positive for COVID-19 before she left.
Rebecca later apologized on her Instagram account, saying she was ready to face the consequences of her actions.
A few days later on the set of La semaine des 4 Julie, the traveller's mother, Anne Cyr, apologized for the recent events, stating "I want to apologize, myself as well as my daughter, to the nursing staff [...] and then to all the Sunwing staff as well as our Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau."
During a live on 111 Private Club's Instagram page Sunday evening, James William Awad, who organized the trip, claimed “There was one person who came [to the event] who tested positive for COVID-19. She didn’t tell anyone. It was Rebecca St-Pierre."
Awad said St-Pierre was banned from the private club for being dishonest.
Cyr confessed that her daughter was still in Mexico as of January 10 and that she had to change hotels every day because of the large number of vacationers who visit at this time of year. The mother also confirmed that she is the one who has to pay for the accommodation of her daughter.
St-Pierre's mom concluded by asking parents as well as young people to remain vigilant when it comes to social networks.
During an interview with Narcity, James William Awad, the man behind the club, claimed that the controversy hasn't hurt the appeal of the private club, which has 1,082 Quebec members. Rather, he said it's had quite the opposite effect.
According to Awad, "thousands" of people have contacted the private club during the last week with the aim of joining it. Meanwhile, there are already "hundreds of people waiting for approval."
Awad, who also goes by the stage name Senior, explained that in order to join the club, you have to get an invitation from someone in the group.
The club is letting in new members as of February 2022 if they pass the video interview and are selected by Awad, who conducts the interviews himself.
Awad said that during the interview, he wants to assess "personality, energy, vibe, make sure they understand the rules, know their age, background, and general status in society."
When asked about this last point, the club founder explained that he wants to know about one's employment and education and ensure they have no criminal record.
Active members can't just hand out invitations like candy on Halloween, though.
"Members all have invitation codes. They earn invitation codes by coming to events, etc. With those invitation codes, they can invite people," Awad explained.
However, people have to be careful who they choose to invite, because if they invite the wrong person, there are consequences: "If they invite someone who gets banned, they can't invite anyone else." In fact, the founder says that this happens regularly: "At every event we ban people."
What events has 111 Private Club hosted?
Although the Mexico saga is the first event to have such a high profile, Awad confirmed that this was not the first gathering for its members.
He mentioned a few events that took place in 2021: "Chalet in Trois-Rivières" on June 4, "Pool Party" on July 3, "The Wolf of Wall Street" on August 28, "Tulum Montreal" on September 24 and "Halloween (Part I)" on October 30.
Courtesy of 111 Private Club
The event organizer said all of the above-mentioned events have been successful and more are to come.
So why do private events and not open parties to attract more people? He explained that he wants to control the quality, the ratio of men to women and "have events that are safe and successful."
For now, it's safe to assume that all of the club's events in Quebec will be suspended as gatherings are banned until further notice in Quebec under the Public Health Act.
Another trip is already planned being planned. "We are going to Greece for the next trip," Awad confirmed.
According to the Journal de Québec, he could face a $100,000 fine for the trip to Mexico because he does not have a travel agent's licence. The Office de la protection du consommateur (OPC) is currently conducting audits.
Awad, for his part, denied this information: "It's fake media. I deal with travel agencies, I don't need a licence."
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
Although he confirmed he's no longer in Mexico, Awad wouldn't say where in the world he currently is because he's trying to "hide from journalists."
During their discussion about the group's trip to Mexico, Lee said, "There are things we could have done differently, but we didn't commit any crimes. We didn't kill anyone."
Lee also went on to claim that the Sunwing flight attendants were selling bottles of alcohol on the plane for cash without recording the sales.
Awad argued that we "shouldn't put everyone in the same boat," stating that there were only 10 to 20 people partying on the plane. He went on to say that it's not fair that the 189 people who are part of 111 Private Club are paying the price with various airlines for this small ratio of people who chose to party during the flight.
Later during the live, Awad said, "People are mad because individuals were smoking in the flight. […] If you're sending death threats to 189 people because one person smoked in the flight, seriously guys, you're stupid."
"I support all the people who partied in the plane. I'm never going to apologize for [them]," Awad said. The party organizer also claimed that "nothing illegal was done."
In response to claims that influencers who were at the event are still stuck in Mexico, Awad explained that "there's no one stuck in Mexico right now. Everyone is able to come back to Montreal. […] Some people who haven't come back yet, it's because they're in quarantine in Mexico right now. It's not because they can't come back."
In the live, the 111 Private Club owner said he takes COVID-19 very seriously and called out the one person in the club who he claimed didn't follow the rules.
"There was one person who came who tested positive and didn't tell anyone, Rebecca St-Pierre. Besides that, everyone respected the rules." Awad said St-Pierre has been banned from 111 Private Club for being dishonest.