Ottawa police say the search for a 17-year-old girl accused in the prostitution of three other teenage girls in Ottawa is hampered by their inability to name or provide any identifying information about the suspect.
Two 15-year-old girls have already been charged and arrested last week for forcing girls between 13 and 17 years old into prostitution in three separate incidents.
Police say the victims were lured to a residence in the 2400 block of Walkley Road via social media, forcibly confined — with at least one instance where a victim was drugged — before they were offered to adult men for acts of prostitution.
One of the two charged was to appear in court Tuesday, while the other is set to appear in court Wednesday.
The names of the accused can't be released due to provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Staff Sgt. John McGetrick said he was limited to what he could say about the third suspect, because of provisions of the Act that protect the identity of young offenders.
"Quite frankly that is a barrier when you are seeking a third suspect and you can't release any indicators, it's a barrier for us," said McGetrick.
Police do have the option under the Act to ask a youth justice court judge to release the name and a judge would comply if the young person was a danger to others and if publication of the information was necessary to assist in apprehending the young person. Such an order would last five days.
McGetrick also said police need to protect the identities of the victims as well, who he said have already gone through a horrible ordeal.
"I can't even begin to comment on the trauma a victim would be experiencing, it would be...it must be horrible is all I can say," said McGetrick.
McGetrick called the case "shocking" and said he believes it is unprecedented in Canada after scanning the RCMP database for related cases.
The charges against the accused include human trafficking, robbery, procuring for prostitution, forcible confinement, sexual assault, assault, uttering threats and abduction.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also said Tuesday the federal government has recently tightened up some laws surrounding human trafficking, but added this case has a "different twist."
"Human trafficking is of course a very repugnant, horrible crime," he said. "If they are, in fact, carrying out this type of activity, one would hope there are significant repercussions if they're guilty of this offence."
No word on charges against men
Police would not say how many adult men were involved in the three incidents and said it was early in the investigation to say whether any would face charges.
They added there is no evidence of any gang involvement or any involvement of the parents and say the trio of accused appear to have acted alone.
McGetrick said he was urging parents to be more aware of how their children use social media.
For the parents of the accused, Doug Baum, head of the Ottawa Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, said they can't be held legally responsible for the possible criminal activity in their homes.
He added that while there are circumstances in which teens can be tried as adults, he said because the girls are 15 years old the case will likely remain as a youth court prosecution.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Ottawa police at 613-236-1222, ext. 5944 or Crime Stoppers at 613-233-8477.