NEWS
01/17/2018 12:02 EST | Updated 01/19/2018 14:46 EST

Montreal-area city limits erotic businesses in effort to fight sexual exploitation

MONTREAL — In an effort to tackle sexual exploitation, Quebec's third-largest city adopted a bylaw this week limiting all new, sex-related businesses to one industrial zone.

A maximum of five so-called erotic businesses will be allowed in the new territory in Laval, just north of Montreal.

As two such companies are already operating in the delineated area, there is only room for three more, the city said Wednesday.

"Sex-related businesses are conducive to sexual exploitation," city councillor Sandra Desmeules said in an interview. "I don't want to generalize, but we have a problem in Quebec and we are taking concrete action against this."

Laval has about 20 erotic businesses such as massage parlours, strip clubs and sex boutiques outside the industrial zone.

They will be allowed to continue operating under the concept of acquired rights, Desmeules said.

The greater Montreal area is known for its abundance of massage parlours whose employees illegally offer sex. 

Montreal police generally allow these companies to operate unless they have clear ties to organized crime or investigators receive information the businesses are hiring underage women.

In Laval, Desmeules said recent police raids on massage parlours uncovered "sexual exploitation, but no minors."

Fears that young women in Laval were being targeted were heightened in 2016 when local police announced four girls had gone missing from a group home housing at-risk youth.

All four girls were eventually found.

The episode helped push the Quebec government to announce several months later a multimillion-dollar, five-year strategy designed to fight sexual exploitation.

Desmeules said citizens in Laval were getting tired of sex-related businesses opening up near schools and daycares.

"People wanted a solid rule to stop this from happening," she said.

City spokeswoman Nadine Lussier said half of the 40 massage parlours in Laval lost their operating permits at the end of 2017 because they employed people who offered clients sexual services.

Desmeules said Laval chose to limit the industrial zone to five sex-related businesses because "we thought five was enough."

She added the acquired rights of current sex-related businesses operating outside the zone will likely end when they are sold.

"I don't want to get into a case-by-case analysis," she said. "But if the business closes, generally the acquired right (ends)."