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Human trafficking 'not just a big-city problem'

Police arrest 15 people, identify seven victims during Operation Northern Spotlight
Human Trafficking
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A massive investigation into human trafficking has proven it is a problem that can occur anywhere.

Forty-five police services across Ontario, in partnership with the RCMP, took part in Operation Northern Spotlight, which, as police revealed Wednesday, resulted in 15 people being charged and seven victims being identified.

The victims were “recovered” by police services in Peel, Waterloo, Ottawa and Niagara.

“Ontario is very busy with human trafficking compared to other provinces,” said Staff Sgt. Coyer Yateman of the OPP’s Anti-Human Trafficking Investigations Co-ordination Team.

He noted about two-thirds of human trafficking cases in Canada are in Ontario.

“It’s happening all over Ontario,” he said. “It’s not just a big-city problem.”

While none of the accused or victims identified through Operation Northern Spotlight are from this area, places like Orillia and Oro-Medonte are not immune to the problem.

An Oro-Medonte man was charged last spring after a victim contacted police. In 2015, an Orillia woman was arrested and accused of working with two men to force a 14-year-old girl into prostitution, based out of a Toronto hotel.

Human trafficking can be a difficult area of investigation for police, Yateman said.

“It’s difficult because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking,” he said. “Victims may not self-identify as victims. They may be taught to distrust us.”

The Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe/Muskoka, which has offices in Barrie and Orillia, is well aware of the issue. It assists people up to the age of 24 who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, and that includes victims of human trafficking.

“We do have young people coming into our centre who need support specific to this type of crime,” said Tracey Carter, the centre’s executive director. “Young people are more vulnerable to this crime than many people in this community would believe is possible.”

Two of the victims identified during Operation Northern Spotlight were younger than 18. The 15 people arrested face a combined 45 charges, including forcible confinement, trafficking in persons, assault with a weapon, criminal harassment and uttering threats.

It’s vital that people know crimes like these can and do occur in cities and towns of all sizes, Carter said.

“This is a horrendous crime and it’s important that all communities recognize this does happen and are prepared to support these young people in moving forward with their lives in the most positive way possible,” she said.

Operation Northern Spotlight took place over seven days.

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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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