A trans-partisan committee tasked with examining the issue of sexual exploitation of minors in Quebec tabled its final report at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Thursday.
Following special consultations and public hearings held in Quebec City, Montreal and Val d’Or, the committee issued 58 recommendations to the government aimed at targeting pimps and customers and protecting young victims — mostly girls, some as young as 12 or 13.
Topping the list of recommendations is the need for Quebec to make the fight against the sexual exploitation of minors “a national priority.”
To that end, the committee is urging the government to recognize it as such and to draw up an action plan to implement the recommendations and have it subject to periodic review.
The committee didn’t have to wait long, however, with Premier François Legault saying Thursday afternoon that he’d given the mandate to follow up on the report to deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault.
The committee, which studied the issue for 18 months, recommends that the province give police more money to fight the problem so they can track down abusive clients.
The report recommends that clients convicted of buying sex from minors should have their names included on the national sex offender registry. It also calls on Quebec to ask Ottawa for changes to the Criminal Code, so pimps who exploit minors are required to serve sentences consecutively.
The committee found exploitation is a lucrative business, with pimps pulling in up to $300,000 a year, while the girls themselves earn nothing.
It estimates there are some 600 establishments in Quebec where a man seeking sexual services from a teen could find them, particularly in large cities, at businesses in the sex industry such as strip clubs, massage parlours and escort agencies.
The report also recommends the girls be officially recognized as victims of crime so they would have access to compensation that could help them from relapsing into prostitution.
While the problem exists province-wide, Montreal is known as a national hub for the sexual exploitation of minors.
“Montréal is a big city, as you know. We have many events like Formula 1… like jazz festivals and… Many people like to come to Montréal,” said committee member Christine St-Pierre during a press conference in Quebec City.
Fellow member Lucie Lecours explained that some abusers found “Frenchies exotic.”
“There is a demand for Frenchies, and this is what we have learned during this commission,” St-Pierre said.
The report also focuses on the need to create awareness and change attitudes that can lead to the issue of sexual exploitation being trivialized.
The authors cited various examples of such behaviours, including going to see strippers to celebrate an 18th birthday, hiring an escort for a bachelor party and watching online porn featuring young women.
Committee members are calling for a society-wide awareness campaign, such as those that were done for issues like drinking and driving, or seatbelts.
They also say Quebec sex education curriculum needs to be adapted to touch on risk factors and prevention.
“Teaching children from an early age on about concepts like self-esteem and the importance of a healthy, egalitarian view of romantic relationships, friendships and intimate relations enables young people to protect themselves from ill-intentioned individuals.”
It also advocates for better training for those who work with youth, such as teachers and nurses, so they can identify a teen who has would up in the sex trade or could be at risk.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global’s Raquel Fletcher