Quebec launches new police unit targeting pimping, sex trafficking

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The Quebec government and representatives of the province's big city police services unveiled plans Friday for a new unit dedicated to fighting pimping and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Directed by the Montreal police, the 25-member integrated squad will be drawn from police forces in Montreal, Quebec City, Longueuil, Laval and Gatineau, in an effort to "neutralize" pimping and sex trafficking networks around the province, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said at a news conference Friday.

"Their mandate is to fight these networks operating across cities and regions, provinces and even internationally," Coiteux said.  

"The unit will unite expertise and best practices and allow for improved co-ordination of cases, more effective support for victims and faster interventions."

Quebec's provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, will also help coordinate the squad, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will contribute national and international-level assistance.

2-pronged approach

SQ spokesperson Martine Asselin described the new unit's approach as two-pronged.

"It will target those who are selling the services, and those who are benefiting from them," she said.

Coiteux said the sexual exploitation of minors will be part of the unit's focus.

"It won't be strictly dedicated to minors, but it will address the broader issue of pimping and human trafficking," he said.

The unit will have a five-year operating budget of $12 million, of which $6.4 million will come from the Quebec government, Coiteux said. The rest will come from the other police services involved.

The unit was promised last fall as part of a $200-million provincial strategy for fighting sexual violence.

25 officers not enough, says former MP

Former MP Maria Mourani, a criminologist who introduced a federal bill on human trafficking in 2012, told Radio-Canada that the new unit's emphasis on co-ordination is a welcome development. 

"They'll work toward the same objective instead of working in silos," she said. 

However, she questioned the decision to limit the size of the unit's workforce to 25 officers.

"The Montreal police force normally has around 20 officers working on this," she said.

Mourani said a similar squad operating in Ontario has around 50 officers.