Men who seek the services of teenage prostitutes and the pimps who provide those services have been targeted by a Quebec government committee that intends to crack down on the trafficking of minors in the province.
The committee, composed of 13 MNAs from all parties at the National Assembly, is creating a report that will call for more severe penalties for those who use or profit from child prostitution.
The committee ended its hearings in June 2019 and is expected to produce its final report this autumn.
“We want to hit hard,” said committee vice-chair and Liberal MNA Christine St-Pierre, who said she was scandalized that customers can, for a few dollars, sexually abuse girls as young as 12 or 13 and get away with it, even though the prison term for such a crime is 10 years.
It is expected the committee will request more financial aid for police forces in order to create squads dedicated to tracking down the users of child prostitution — men the committee refers to as “customer abusers.”
The committee is also expected to recommend that jail sentences handed to pimps are now too light and should be imposed on a cumulative basis.
St-Pierre is convinced the solution exists in “a much, much greater crackdown” to fight the exploitation of minors, which can leave its victims, most of whom are girls, with deep scars.
The trafficking of young girls is lucrative. It has been estimated that one girl can make $300,000 annually for a pimp.
Commission chair Ian Lafrenière, a former Montreal police officer and now Coalition Avenir Québec MNA, agreed with the argument that more repressive measures are necessary, but said they are far from being enough.
Lafrenière favours a series of measures based on prevention that places “the victims at the centre of our actions” and would also assist the parents of victims. He said he is sure he has the support of the government when it comes to providing the funds necessary to carry out the recommendations.
What’s certain is that the committee will urge the government to determine the scale of the trafficking of minors in the province. During its hearings, the committee was told that men can procure child prostitutes at 600 sites in Quebec, including strip clubs, massage parlours and escort agencies.
It will also seek to have sexually exploited victims, many of whom are runaways, receive psychological counselling and officially be designated victims of crime, which would allow them access to Quebec’s victims compensation program once they have left their former lives behind.
The committee will also seek better provincial-federal co-ordination when it comes to combating child exploitation. It will also urge the government to examine the role social media plays in the recruitment of vulnerable girls.