Child sexual exploitation is the focus of a special commission digging into the issue in Quebec.
Monday was the last day of National Assembly public hearings, where the commission heard just how big the problem is in Montreal.
What makes Montreal an attraction to international visitors can also make it a destination for sex tourism, according to a cyber crime expert, Paul Laurier, the CEO of Vigiteck.
“It’s very close to New York City, it’s beautiful, it’s French, it’s cheaper,” he said.
The commission heard from Laurier and other experts Monday, who explained how Montreal is a hotbed for underage sex trafficking.
“We see more and more victims from Montreal that have been sent all over Canada,” said Dominic Monchamp, lieutenant detective with the SPVM for the integrated team against procuring.
Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) MNA Ian Lafrenière, a longtime police officer turned politician, is chair of the cross-party committee, but he says he can’t help approaching this issue as a father. His own daughters are 10 and 12.
“You say, ‘No, this is my hometown. It’s impossible,'” said Lafrenière.
“During the hearings, we (heard from) a police officer from Ottawa. She was a former member of the anti-trafficking unit. Her daughter was recruited within two weeks on social media,” he said.
“So as a parent, you go back home, you feel horrible about that because you understand that no one, no one is safe.”
For those already working in the sex trade, the committee heard how the pandemic made things more dangerous for them.
Many sex workers still needed an income, forcing them to see clients which put them at risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.
“We’ve heard and seen that some of the girls have been asked to lower their prices and perform other services that they don’t want to,” Monchamp explained.
“And because there was, at the beginning of the pandemic, less of a demand, some of them were forced to do so because they needed to make more money or the same amount of money as the pre-COVID period,” he said.
With many hotels closed, these activities took place in less secure locations.
“There was more demand to do services in private homes or places like Airbnb’s,” he said.
The police officer said parents need to be aware that young girls — and boys — can be lured into sex trafficking by online predators.
“We have a recruiter each in our own homes,” Monchamp said.
“We have to save those victims one at a time,” said Laurier.
The commission says it will soon table multiple recommendations to address this tragic and complex issue.