Montreal police have a new plan and a new mindset when it comes to sex work and sexual exploitation.

The city is considered a hub for sex work and and human trafficking, with police saying women and teenaged girls are brought into the city and forced into what amounts to sexual slavery.

Montreal police commander Ian Lafreniere said the force is trying to change how its internal culture when it comes to dealing with prostitutes, considering them victims instead of criminals.

"These are people that have been forced to do that job with no money, beat up and in very bad conditions. On the jagged edge for them to call police it's been seen as them doing something illegal," said Cmdr. Lafreniere.

Last fall Mayor Denis Coderre said he wanted the crack down on massage parlours that operate as fronts for sex work, even as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled three of Canada's laws against living off the avails of prosttitution, street soliciting and keeping a brothel were unconstitutional.

Cmdr. Lafreniere said police want to focus on eliminating the sexual exploitation of minors, human trafficking, and street walking.

"For them it's horrible and these consequences are there for years so we have to see this as a very serious thing," said Lafreniere.

To that end police hope to communicate more with their counterparts in Laval and Longueuil in order to improve their expertise in dealing with sex work, and to increase the awareness of citizens about how woman become sex workers.

Sex trade activist group approves

Stella, a group that fights for the rights of Montreal sex trade workers, offered praise for the new approach in an interview with CTV Montreal Monday. 

"It's a step in the right direction to stop arresting women in the sex industry," said Stella Outreach Worker Robyn Maynard.

"The negative effects of arresting women in the sex industry have been widely documented. It's good to see police with the idea of prioritizing their interventions on coercion and human trafficking rather than the sex industry," she added.

Maynard said that she meets with thousands of women each year working in the sex trade and believes that most are not victims of coercion or abuse.

The federal government is expected to enact new legislation in coming months that some believe will mimic the so-called Nordic Model, which targets those using the services of sex workers. Maynard said that the Stella group opposes that approach. "Sex workers are still pushed into violent situations when the sex trade is forced underground," she said.