Laval runaways spur new funding to fight sexual exploitation of minors

The Quebec government announcement comes as it faces growing criticism over cuts it made last year to programs helping vulnerable youth.

Province putting $3M over five years into new program called Prévention Jeunesse

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux and Lucie Charlebois, the minister responsible for youth protection, said teen runaways are a problem across Quebec. (CBC)

The Quebec government has announced new measures aimed at preventing the sexual exploitation of teenage girls in Laval following a string of runaways from a local group home. 

The announcement comes as the government faces growing criticism over cuts it made last year to programs helping vulnerable youth.

The measures for Laval are part of a larger project announced Tuesday called Prévention Jeunesse, which will be set up in five areas around the province at a cost of $3 million over the next five years.

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux and Lucie Charlebois, the minister responsible for youth protection, made the announcement Tuesday morning in Laval.

Coiteux told reporters Prévention Jeunesse would allow local communities to identify their own priorities. In the case of Laval, the focus will be on sexual exploitation.

The Centre de la Jeunesse, a group home for troubled teens, has been linked to a string of runaways since late last month. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
The money will go mainly toward hiring a co-ordinator to bridge communication between police, social workers and other officials. 

"Here in Laval, it aims at putting all the partners together to work against the sexual exploitation of young women," Coiteux said.

"It's a program that's really aimed at preventing, and it's a program aimed at helping to get more convictions [of pimps]."

Five teenage girls linked to the Centre de Jeunesse de Laval have run away since late last month. Four of them have been found and one is still missing.

Experts have raised concerns that the disappearances point to a larger problem involving the trafficking of young girls into prostitution.

Not enough to address 'major crisis:' PQ

The Parti Québécois was quick to slam the measures introduced Tuesday.

MNA Jean-François Lisée said it took a "major crisis" for Premier Philippe Couillard's government to take a "minor step" to address the problem of sexual exploitation of teen girls.

In particular, Lisée said it will do little to prevent street gangs and pimps from using social media to lure teenage girls into prostitution.

Earlier this week, opposition party Québec Solidaire called on the province to reintroduce funding for programs aimed at cracking down on sexual exploitation. 

MNA Manon Massé said a $1.4-million, three-year program that helped several organizations working with vulnerable youth was scrapped by Premier Philippe Couillard's government in 2014.