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Lise Theriault holds up a sign as part of a public awareness campaign to combat sexual exploitation on June 1, 2016, in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Formula One Grand Prix weekend in Montreal means more than raucous street parties, fast cars and jacked-up prices.

It also brings thousands of tourists to the city, with many on the prowl for sex.

With that in mind, various groups in Quebec launched a campaign on Wednesday aimed at raising awareness of sexual exploitation ahead of the June 10-12 weekend.

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The initiative, called "Buying Sex is Not a Sport," has the support of the provincial government.

Lise Theriault, Quebec's minister responsible for the status of women, said it is important to inform people about the sexual exploitation of women, men and, especially, underage girls.

"Every year, with the arrival of large sporting events, especially the Grand Prix, we see an increase in the quantity of sexual exploitation that is paired with an increase in the demand for sexual services," she said, adding the demand is "substantial, to say the least."

A recent report listed Montreal as a Canadian "hot spot" for child sex tourism due to its proximity to the U.S. border and the many sporting events and festivals it hosts.

Nathalie Khlat, president and co-founder of "Beacon of the Freed," the organization leading the campaign, says the number of sexual tourism transactions can double and even triple during events like the Grand Prix.

She says it is crucial to remind people that buying sex is illegal, especially as many people are unaware the Criminal Code has changed.

According to Khlat, sexual tourism customers are "mostly men, over 18 years old," but there is no exact portrait of a john.

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"It's not written on anybody's forehead," said Khlat.

"It's just people who think they have the right to purchase a woman, a girl or a boy's body for their own pleasure."

She said 39 per cent of sexual exploitation victims who come forward are minors. The average age of entry into the sex trade, she added, is about 14 or 15.

Theriault said sexual exploitation in all forms is completely unacceptable.

"As a society, we must mobilize and fight the battle against sexual exploitation while supporting the equal rights of men and women," she said.

The new campaign will feature billboards placed in strategic areas in and around Montreal, mostly on city buses and expressways, and a protest will take place downtown on June 11.

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There will also be an illuminated truck circulating near the corner of Ste-Catherine and Crescent streets in the heart of downtown.

That particular spot is where hundreds of revellers gather to listen to musical shows and to gawk at fancy vehicles as well as scantily clad women promoting alcoholic beverages.

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