Why do we tolerate human trafficking in Ontario?

By MPP Toby Barrett

Ontario does not have a strategy to deal with human trafficking – this from the recent report of the all-party Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment.

Over one year of work, MPPs on the committee came to realize, although often hidden, human trafficking is a significant problem across the province.

As they reported, victims – mostly women and children — are deprived of their normal lives and forced to provide labour or sexual services, through a variety of coercive practices, all for the direct profit of their traffickers.

We usually think of trafficking as foreign victims crossing international borders. This is not the case in Canada – 90 per cent of it occurs within our own country.

According to the RCMP, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been found to be the most common form of trafficking in Canada, with Ontario functioning as a major hub. Traffickers force victims to provide sex for customers, usually for money.

Apart from the one page devoted to human trafficking, the bulk of the report, as its’ title indicates, focuses on sexual violence and harassment in Ontario.

According to Statistics Canada, 92 per cent of victims of sexual offences over the age of 15 have been women. Virtually all attackers — 99 per cent – were men. And 90 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

Almost 60 per cent of all sexual assault victims in Canada are under 18, and a quarter of them are under the age of 12.

A copy of the report can be picked up at my MPP offices or can be downloaded at http://www.ontla.on.ca/committee-proceedings/committee-reports/files_html/FINAL%20REPORT,%20SELECT%20COMMITTEE%20ON%20SEXUAL%20VIOLENCE%20AND%20HARASSMENT_EN.htm.

In May 2015, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Opposition Critic for Women’s Issues Laurie Scott debated her private member’s motion which calls on the Ontario government to immediately take action and create a provincial task force to combat human trafficking. The task force of police, prosecutors and social services would follow the model of the existing Guns and Gangs Provincial Task Force.

Human trafficking, often described as a form of modern day slavery, is a unique crime in that the victim is sexually exploited, earning a trafficker as much as $280,000 a year from just one victim. In 2014, there were 149 occurences of human trafficking leading to 365 charges by Toronto Police Services alone.

Although the select committee focused on sex offenses, it did have advice relevant to the legislation I am preparing on trafficking and the black market in Ontario.

For example, there is a lack of statistics on the extent of sexual harassment and childhood sexual abuse. There is no standardized system to track human trafficking.

The committee recommended two approaches. The Ontario government should coordinate help for trafficking victims – allowing support services and the criminal justice system to share information and collaborate. Secondly, Ontario should develop a multi-ministerial, province-wide strategy on human trafficking.

Hopefully my legislation calling for a public inquiry in to the black market of not only people but also of drugs, money, tobacco and weapons will help defend Ontario from these growing and disturbing developments. If you have any thoughts or advice for me on my private member’s bill, please contact me at [email protected].

Sexual violence, harassment and the trafficking of people for sex has no place in our society.