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RCMP team will fight human-trafficking

MONTREAL - The federal public safety minister has announced the creation of an RCMP unit that will work closely with law-enforcement partners in Quebec to fight human-trafficking in Canada and abroad.

Steven Blaney says significant progress has been made over the past year but that much work remains to be done on what he calls the despicable crime of modern-day slavery in Canada.

"Sometimes it can be a young girl who falls in love with an individual and who is then pushed into prostitution — it can be as horrible as that," Blaney said in an interview Monday after making the announcement at a news conference.

"So that's why it's so important to deal with this huge challenge as a Canadian society."

The RCMP has also developed an information and awareness campaign aimed at youth and the aboriginal population entitled: "I'm Not for Sale", which the federal minister says is providing good results.

"It is encouraging victims to come out and reach out to non-governmental organizations and actually seek help and then we can prosecute traffickers," he added.

A few hours after Blaney met reporters in Montreal, the RCMP announced the arrest of four more erotic massage parlour operators.

The Mounties said in a news release that they, the Montreal police and the Canada Border Services Agency conducted a second police operation last Friday in a case of sexual exploitation of young Romanian women.

An arrest warrant was also issued for another operator. One week earlier, three erotic massage parlour operators were arrested as part of the same investigation.

Those arrested last Friday appeared in court a day later to face charges including keeping a common bawdy house, aiding or abetting a person to engage in or carry on prostitution, and living wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre recently served notice that illegal massage parlours — havens for prostitution and human-trafficking — will be the target of a police crackdown and possible legislation that will include hefty fines.

The RCMP has pointed out in the past that such parlours are a gateway for moving human-trafficking victims into prostitution. The Mounties estimate there are nearly 350 illicit massage parlours in Montreal and many more in its suburbs.

Coderre has the backing of the federal minister in his crackdown on erotic massage parlours that are masquerading as legitimate businesses.

"Mayor Coderre can count on our support to track down human-traffickers," Blaney said. "So, wherever they are, whether in a massage parlour or anywhere else, where there's human-trafficking, our joint forces will intervene."

At his Montreal news conference, Blaney also released the 2012-2013 annual report on progress of a national action plan to combat human-trafficking.

The plan involves 18 federal departments.

It includes a partnership with the National Association of Friendship Centres, which is aimed at aboriginal populations. There's also been an increase in information that specifically targets foreign nationals and temporary foreign workers who may be vulnerable to human-trafficking.

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