OPP highlight cooperative, complex nature of anti-trafficking efforts

The 21 IJFS participating police agencies are Anishinabek, Akwesasne, Barrie, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Niagara, OPP, Ottawa, Peel, Peterborough, Six Nations, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Treaty Three, Waterloo, Windsor, and York. Graphic courtesy of OPP.

The provincial human trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS) members, which includes the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) as well as local police agencies like Kingston Police, marked Ontario’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Wednesday Feb. 22, 2023, by releasing a new video sharing statistics and highlighting the cooperative work of the strategy and the complexity of human trafficking investigations.

OPP IJFS Lead Detective, Inspector Jordan Whitesell said, “Due to the transient nature of human trafficking, one police service cannot battle human trafficking alone — we rely on our law enforcement and community partners and on the public for support. Together with the members of the IJFS, we will continue to fight for those who cannot, for those who live in fear, for those who do not feel like their life is their own.”

Ontario has a higher average annual rate of police-reported human trafficking cases than the national average, due to the many urban areas across the province, including the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

Increased access to major transportation and transit hubs makes mobility very convenient, along with the easy access to larger hotels and other accommodation facilities. The IJFS works closely with ONroute, which operates highway rest stops, and the trucking industry to stop human trafficking along Ontario’s transportation corridors, investigators disclosed. 

Further, according to Inspector Tricia Rupert of the Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS) in Kenora, the victims of human trafficking are often individuals who come from extremely vulnerable populations. For example, “it is estimated that approximately 50 per cent of the trafficked women and girls in Canada are Indigenous. Immediate support is necessary for individuals leaving these exploitive situations, and we continue to work with victim services for support,” she said.

In the video, Rupert points out that the idea that people are kidnapped and trafficked by strangers is a myth; in fact, most victims know their abusers.

Traffickers exploit the lack of public awareness to perpetuate their heinous crime, and the OPP point out that the public can help by being aware of what trafficking looks like and reporting it. “Family and friends play a vital role in helping victims become survivors, by recognizing when something has changed in their loved ones, and reaching out,” explained Staff Sergeant Guy Renaud of the Greater Sudbury Police Service.

The Ontario government also released a statement about Human Trafficking Awareness Day, stating that the day “is an important opportunity for Ontarians to learn about this issue, including how trafficking happens, how to spot the warning signs, and where to get help. It is also critically important that victims and survivors know how they can safely access the supports they need to heal and rebuild their lives.”

Since the IJFS was created in December 2021, the 21 police services involved have conducted 65 investigations, assisted 61 victims, and laid 72 human trafficking charges and 167 additional charges against 28 different people, according to the OPP.

The victims identified by the IJFS ranged from 12 to 47 years old, while the accused ranged from 18 to 44 years old. 

All victims were provided services and support through the OPP IJFS Victim Specialist or local victim services. Assistance was also provided by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), according to police.

Human trafficking investigations are complex and often require a cross-jurisdictional approach, since traffickers often cross into various regions of Ontario. The median length of time to complete a human trafficking case is 382 days, according to Statistics Canada.

The 21 IJFS participating police agencies are Anishinabek, Akwesasne, Barrie, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Niagara, OPP, Ottawa, Peel, Peterborough, Six Nations, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Treaty Three, Waterloo, Windsor, and York.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call your local police. The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking has resources available on its website for victims and survivors of human trafficking. A national hotline is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-833-900-1010.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services; Michael Kerzner, Solicitor General; and Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation gave a joint statement in which they pointed out that sex trafficking, the most reported form of human trafficking in Ontario, “is a vicious crime that creates lasting emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental trauma for survivors… We have repeatedly seen traffickers target vulnerabilities to gain trust and form a bond with their victims… Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy is part of a whole of government approach and leverages community partners to raise awareness, intervene earlier, protect victims, support survivors, and hold offenders accountable.”

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call your local police. Information on human trafficking in Ontario can be found on the Human Trafficking page of the Ontario government’s website. The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking also has resources available on its website for victims and survivors of human trafficking, as well as a Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, which is available any time at 1-833-900-1010.

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