Montreal

Missing Laval teens: Youth advocates call for public inquiry

The recent string of disappearances from a youth protection home in Laval has prompted advocates to call for a public inquiry into the centre.

5 girls have gone missing from the same group home in Laval in the last week

Advocates are calling on the Couillard government to launch a public inquiry into the Laval youth centre where five teenagers went missing. (CBC)

The recent string of disappearances from a youth protection home in Laval has prompted advocates to call for a public inquiry into the centre.

In just over a week, five girls ranging in age from 14 to 17 disappeared from the group home.

Officials worried they were lured away for sexual exploitation.

So far, four of them were found, safe and sound, by police.

The father of one of the missing girls got the call Monday morning that his missing 16-year-old was located.

"We were ecstatic. We were screaming, we were crying. We were very happy. I thanked them. I said, 'Thank you for bringing my baby back,'" the man said, who cannot be named now that his daughter has been found and is back in youth protection.

But he added that the system that was supposed to protect his daughter needs fixing.

That sentiment was echoed by a health and social services users' committee.

The Comité des usagers du CSSS de Laval said measures must be put in place to ensure the teens' safety.

"In such a situation — which is, at the very least, alarming — the users' committee urges the premier to hold a public inquiry to fully understand the situation and find solutions to implement," read a statement released by the committee.

"The committee must ensure that users are treated with respect, dignity and recognize their rights and freedoms."

Restore funding, PQ demands

The Parti Québécois is calling on the Couillard government to restore funding to the province's youth centres.

The MNA Jean-François Lisée says the province cut $20 million since coming to power.

He also wants the government to release a report commissioned by the PQ in 2013 looking into youth sexual exploitation

"Not only have they cut the mobilization that was created back in 2013-14 by doing nothing, but they actually eroded the tools that we had to try to stem this problem." Lisée said.

Call for tougher laws

Besides a public inquiry, there are also calls for the laws around human trafficking to be changed.

"What you see in Laval, it's the police who know the problem, and the centre jeunesse, they know the problem – but they can't do anything because they need tools," said Maria Mourani, a former MP and criminologist.

"They need strong policies to act."

Mourani's private member's bill, C-452, passed last year — but she's waiting for the Trudeau government to act on it.

That law would see the Criminal Code amended to allow stricter punishment for human trafficking and reverse the burden of proof.

She says that would mean young victims wouldn't have to testify against alleged traffickers, and there would be a better chance of convicting the perpetrators.

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