In a perfect world, a new provincial strategy co-led by Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop wouldn’t need to exist.
Unfortunately, human trafficking remains a very real issue as it tears families apart in communities across Canada while luring young girls and women into its ugly jaws.
Dunlop said the strategy to combat human trafficking and its annual $20-million funding commitment for victim supports and anti-human trafficking enforcement initiatives show the province is serious about combating a very real problem.
“On one side, we’re looking at prevention and supporting victims,” she said, noting the government is also providing funds to policing agencies to ensure officers are fully equipped to go after human traffickers.
Dunlop, who serves as associate minister of children and women's issues, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones are heading the strategy that’s part of Ontario's commitment to protecting women and children and combatting gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Every day across Ontario, young women and children are being lured into human trafficking by criminals who rob them of their safety and dignity,” Premier Doug Ford said in a release, noting the strategy will aim to develop and implement a “new, stronger, cross-government strategy to raise awareness of these disgusting crimes, ensure survivors get the supports they need, and bring their traffickers to justice.”
A mother of three daughters, Dunlop said she fully understands the need to tackle the issue head-on, especially given the fact more than 70% of human trafficking victims identified by police are under the age of 25 with the average recruitment age being 13 years old.
Over the summer months, Dunlop toured the province visiting women’s shelters and other related agencies while also participating in 13 roundtable meetings on human trafficking with survivors, Indigenous partners, law enforcement and front-line service providers.
“In Ontario, we are the hub and hotbed in Canada right now,” Dunlop said, noting two-thirds of the nation’s police-reported human trafficking violations occur in Ontario.
“We also know it’s an under-reported crime," said the local MPP. "A girl, over time, is worth $3 million to a pimp. During discussions across the province, front-line workers and survivors of human trafficking told us there is a need for consistent and reliable funding.”
Dunlop said that while some might think human trafficking only occurs in settings like those portrayed in movies like Taken where a girl is kidnapped during a visit with friends to Paris, it’s not just a Hollywood creation.
“It’s happening here,” she said, noting family and friends should be on the lookout for warning signs such as a girl suddenly becoming more secretive and withdrawn both at home and at school while receiving gifts and going out with new friends.
“They’re the eyes out there and they best know their children.”
Dunlop said the province is also working closely with hotel/motel associations since their workers are often the first ones to see potential human trafficking as well as trucking associations whose drivers most travel the province’s 400 series highways that are favoured by traffickers.
“The more eyes we have have out there recognizing the signs, the better chance we haave of combating it,” she said.
Dunlop is flying to Vancouver today to participate in a federal/provincial/territory status of women conference.
“It’s important that I talk to my counterparts,” she said, adding the forum gives provincial and territorial representatives the opportunity to voice their concerns along a chance to hear what’s being experienced in other parts of the country.