QUEBEC CITY -- The fight against sexual exploitation, primarily against girls, must be made a priority in Quebec, said a group of elected officials.

The task force that has been examining this question for 18 months has concluded that the scourge of sexual exploitation of young girls must be given the highest importance, as young runaways have their lives ruined by remorseless pimps.

The report, made public on Thursday, put forward 58 recommendations for the government aiming to stop pimps and their clients while improving protection for young victims, some of whom are only 12 or 13 years old.

The transpartisan special commission in charge of analyzing the situation read 63 testimonies and heard from 67 witnesses, including from multiple experts.

If the government follows up on the report, men who seek out sexual services from teenagers could soon be in big trouble, along with the pimps they do business with.

Notably, the commission recommends that the government offer more financial resources to police departments, who would see sting operations against abusive clients multiply.

The names of such clients who are found guilty would also be put into the national sex offender registry.

The report also finds that punishments for pimps are too light, particularly when the individual is found abusing several young girls. It recommends that courts make more aggressive use of consecutive sentences, despite current events. Quebec would need to petition Ottawa to make the necessary changes, since sexual exploitation is a criminal violation.

The trade of young girls is a lucrative business that allows pimps to make up to an estimated $300,000 a year. Reduced to merchandise, the girls do not earn a single cent of this money.

In an August interview former commission president and police officer Ian Lafrenière, having since become Indigenous affairs minister, made it clear that this problem is only becoming larger in Quebec, making the province into a “turntable” for the sexual exploitation of minors in Canada.

The report contains five main segments and attempts to emphasize prevention and awareness. It also seeks to promote better sex education for young people.

The group additionally recommends that these teenagers in the sex trade be officially recognized as victims, affording them access to the compensation for crime victims program (IVAC). This could help them avoid falling back into prostitution once removed from the pimps’ influence.

It also advocated better training for professionals who interact with young people, namely teachers and nurses, to give them the tools they need to identify a teenager who has fallen into sex work or who is at risk of doing so. Police training should also be improved.

According to the consultation document produced by the commission, it is estimated that a man looking for sexual services from a teenager could find them in more than 600 establishments in Quebec, particularly in major cities where there are some 330 places linked to the sex industry such as strip clubs, massage parlours and escort agencies.

The report also identified that social media plays a crucial role in facilitating the recruitment of vulnerable young girls and finding clients.  

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.