Last June, the government’s announcement of $72 million over four years on a strategy to end human trafficking was greeted with cautious optimism by many across the province. After years of advocacy, after years of research reports and calls to action, the government was finally acknowledging the reality that Ontario has become a major hub for human trafficking. This is especially the case along the 401 corridor from Windsor to Ottawa, which led the Ottawa Police Service to pilot a human trafficking unit in 2013, and to the establishment just last month of a permanent human trafficking unit within the London Police Service.
In London, police have reported a shocking spike in the number of women and girls being trafficked—girls whose average age is just 13. In only 17 months since July 2015, the London Abused Women’s Centre has assisted 158 women and girls who identify as being sex-trafficked and sexually exploited.
In the face of this explosion of human trafficking, the lack of detail in the Liberals’ June announcement raised some concerns, especially around gaps in the strategy. The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking emphasized the need for a coordinated and integrated system of data collection from law enforcement and front-line agencies to ensure that policy is informed by valid, reliable data.
Human trafficking remains one of the most under-reported crimes because victims fear coming forward, or may not even recognize that they are being trafficked. And as the Ontario Native Women’s Association points out, there is a particular lack of accurate information about the trafficking of indigenous women and girls.
With Ontario receiving the vast majority of immigrant and migrant workers, the FCJ Refugee Centre called on the government to ensure an equal focus on ending labour trafficking, as well as supporting internationally trafficked persons, who are especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Survivor organizations like Voicefound emphasize the need for long-term support for victims of trafficking, and increased multi-year funding for survivor-centric efforts for research and recovery.
While the New Democrats appreciate the introduction of legislation to advance the government’s strategy, we will be watching closely to see how the dollars are allocated and to ensure that any new programs and policies reflect the recommendations that are being brought forward by those who have already been working for years to deal with this horrific crime.