Police in Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton and Durham mark 28 human trafficking arrests in first year of task force
The Ontario-wide Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS), which counts the Durham, Halton, Hamilton and Peel police as members, marked 28 arrests on nearly 240 charges since their inception little more than a year ago.
The task force kicked off its work in Dec. 2021 when 21 services joined forces to combat human trafficking. The IJFS includes the Anishinabek, Akwesasne, Barrie, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Niagara, OPP, Ottawa, Peel (Brampton and Mississauga), Peterborough, Six Nations, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Treaty Three, Waterloo, Windsor and York police services.
Four of these services, the OPP, Sudbury, Toronto and Treaty Three, led a joint announcement of the IJFS results and statistics.
Since the IJFS launched, the police services have undertaken 65 human trafficking investigations resulting in 72 human trafficking charges and 167 other charges (such as assault, uttering threats, extortion, and harassment) against 28 people. The accused are most men between the age of 18 and 45.
As a result of these investigations, 61 victims were identified and helped. These victims were almost all women and girls ranging in age from 12 to 47.
According to Inspector Tricia Rupert of Treaty Three police, these victims tend to hail from vulnerable communities such as migrant workers, Indigenous women and girls and at-risk youth. More than half of victims across Canada are Indigenous women and girls.
“The idea of people being taken or kidnapped is a myth. The truth is that most victims know their traffickers,” investigators found.
“Traffickers exploit and use manipulative techniques to isolate victims from loved ones, creating sole reliance on them to meet their physical and emotional needs. Victims become dependent on their traffickers, making this crime all the more challenging for law enforcement,” Rupert said.
“Traffickers form a bond with their victim, as a relationship, through violence or blackmail, and it makes it difficult to leave,” she continued. However, she noted the IJFS has an embedded victims’ services specialist who connects survivors to services.
OPP Detective Inspector Jordan Whitesel said, “Law enforcement have worked hard to address human trafficking in this province. Unlike other crimes where an item is the commodity, human trafficking focuses on the exploitation of a human being for someone else’s personal gain or profit. This is often in the sex industry or for forced labour.”
“Human trafficking is a challenging and complex crime as victims often do not identify themselves as victims. Traffickers also rely on movement and transporting their victims around the province in the hopes of concealing their crime,” Whitesel continued.
Ontario sees higher levels of human trafficking than the national average because of this mobility. The Hwy. 401 corridor, in particular, “makes movement of people extremely convenient, as a situation that may begin in Toronto could potentially move right across the province in a matter of hours, and vice versa.”
This, plus the high urban density in the GTA, “makes mobility very convenient, along with the easy access to larger hotels and other accommodation facilities. Urban settings also offer more anonymity for the traffickers because people are less likely to notice and report these occurrences in busy city settings.”
“The review of evidence, including the tracking of advertisements about sexual services, tells us that traffickers will move victims from one urban centre to another at a moment’s notice, to access different customer bases and avoid law enforcement detection,” according to Toronto police Inspector Susan Gomes.
As such, the inter-jurisdictional approach is “making a difference,” Gomes said, “The collaboration between the IJFS and associated law enforcement partners makes it more difficult for these traffickers to remain anonymous as they carry out these crimes. It also makes it easier for us to remove and rescue vulnerable victims.”
Ontario residents who suspect human trafficking can call their local police or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.
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