In September I had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion in Toronto on what Ontario must do to help victims of human trafficking. Several thoughts, ideas, and concerns were shared by people from various sectors, and I left thinking that this kind of discussion and unity would be the recipe for change.
You can imagine how exciting it was for me two weeks ago to receive an announcement coming out of Ontario: the government is investing $1.95 million over three years to combat human trafficking across the province! It is part of Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan, and its initiatives will focus on prevention, enforcement, and support for victims. This lines up with what MP Joy Smith proposes in her National Action Plan. Here is the breakdown:
- Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will launch a special operation to gather intelligence to help identify organized crime groups involved in human trafficking.
- OPP will also develop human trafficking education materials to raise awareness among front line officers and the public.
- Peel Regional Police will add additional shifts to the Vice Unit section of its Major Drug and Vice Unit. These officers will work to rescue vulnerable youth in crisis, charge alleged offenders and support victims of human trafficking through the court process.
- Toronto Police Service will intensify its enforcement activity against human traffickers and increase its coordination with victim support organizations.
- Two Crown attorneys have been identified to act as human trafficking specialists to provide expertise and advice on human trafficking prosecutions and policy to police, victim services and other Crowns. This collaborative approach will help police officers focus their investigation and build stronger cases. The expertise of both specialists will be available to Crowns throughout Ontario.
- In partnership with the Ontario government, Peel Regional Police will launch an awareness campaign in multiple languages to increase awareness about human trafficking and help victims.
- Ontario will provide support for Walk with Me, a provincial anti-human trafficking organization, to pilot a first response model tailored to victims of human trafficking.
- With the support of the province, the Ontario Native Women’s Association will establish drop-in services in Thunder Bay for Aboriginal women trafficked into the sex trade.
- A London anti-human trafficking coalition will receive funding to develop specialized materials to help service providers identify victims and improve their access to local supports and services.
- The province will fund The Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Centre of Peel to develop in-depth training and resource materials for delivery to front-line victim services providers.
- The Windsor-Essex Anti-Human Trafficking Action Group will be funded to develop outreach materials and workshops for victims.
- Ontario will fund Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking (PACT), Ottawa’s Coalition to End Human Trafficking, to develop an integrated community response protocol, build the coalition network and develop accessible online resources for victims of trafficking and service providers, available in both English and French.
- Ontario will fund the Sarnia-Lambton Committee Against the Trafficking of Women and Children to develop the tools necessary to build coordinated community responses to better support victims.
- The province will work with stakeholders to develop a crisis line, available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for victims of human trafficking who have been exploited for the purposes of commercial sex and forced labour. This crisis line is expected to be available in the spring of 2011.
I am very happy that Walk With Me is receiving support. Timea Nagy, who started the organization, was herself a victim of sex trafficking and wholly devotes herself to victims in distress. It’s about time they got some government support! The crisis hotline is an absolute necessity as well, and it is exciting that Ontario is following in Alberta’s footsteps on that one.
Many are saying that $1.95 million is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to effectively stamping out organized crime. But the fact that some money is being provided is an indication that trafficking is now seen as a real crime. We have come a long way from a few years ago when, as MP Joy Smith says in our film, she was laughed at in Parliament when she introduced the idea of trafficking. She was told it simply did not exist in Canada.
Hope for the Sold wants to thank the Ontario government and specifically the Ontario Women’s Directorate for these initiatives. Your action gives legitimacy to the stories of countless victims who have found themselves exploited in our country. My hope is that the drop in the bucket will eventually look more like this:
**Freedom Week 2011 is coming up soon in Vancouver, and researcher Gunilla Ekberg will speak on the Swedish model in Victoria on March 8. Check here for more details about these events.**