MONTREAL -- Professional clowns say their craft shouldn't be confused with the sightings of creepy clowns across North America over the past several weeks.

Stacey Laureyssens, president of the 150-member Clowns Canada, says the distinction between the fear-sowing tricksters and the real thing should be clear.

"People dressing up like clowns to scare people is just the same as dressing like scarecrows, zombies or vampires to scare people," said Laureyssens (a.k.a. Empress Cherry Sunday), whose group has gathered in Montreal for an event this week.

"What these people are doing is acting like monsters in clown costumes to prank people. They are not clowns."

There have been reports of creepy-clown sightings in several U.S. states since August, with some being hoaxes or social media-fuelled pranks.

In Canada, teenagers who were photographed in August wearing clown masks and wielding a chain allegedly chased home kids from a park in Gatineau, Que.

Gatineau police declined to charge the teens as no crime was committed.

U.S. authorities have warned that those making false reports and those allegedly dressing up could face charges.

One week ago, an 11-year-old Georgia girl was arrested at school with a knife she reportedly was carrying to fend off clown attacks.

Kendall Savage, the organizer of the first-ever Montreal Clown Festival, said plenty of serious training and study is required to learn a very difficult craft that has slim job prospects.

"You can't just slap on a mask and a silly suit and all of a sudden, you're a clown," Savage said.

In terms of overall impact, Laureyssens suggests budget cuts to the arts hurt the profession more than creepy clowns.

"It is important to remember: a cheap artist isn't skilled and a skilled artist isn't cheap," Laureyssens said.

Savage, meanwhile, dismisses the notion that regular clowns and entertainers are scaring people more and more.

"They're afraid of idiots hiding in bushes and there's a huge difference," she said.

For more information on the Montreal Clown Festival, running today through Oct. 2:

With files from Associated Press