Bob Bernie, the Community Mobilization Officer with the Kenora Detachment of the OPP, will be one of the many handing out flyers, posters and information about human trafficking in the community today, as today is the first annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day across Ontario.
The day is an opportunity to bring attention to the severity and prevalence of human trafficking, and to educate the public about what the signs of human trafficking are and how to find services to help support survivors.
“The day is absolutely important to the OPP,” said Bernie. “It’s something that we support. We’ve been doing a lot of work regarding investigating human trafficking in Ontario and in our region. Informing people what it looks like. The dangers to vulnerable youth. Investigation, prevention and raising awareness about human trafficking. This day is a great time to talk more about the issue, how we’re approaching it and what we’re doing to try to combat it in our cities and towns across the province."
"We have messaging materials to distribute throughout the community. Areas such as hotels, motels, restaurants, clinics, hospitals and more. Human trafficking hides in plain sight. Symptoms can be hard to spot, and they can go undetected. We’re hoping to spread the word through public awareness,” he said.
Bernie notes that while many residents believe that human trafficking is an international crime, it is happening here in Kenora, and the region as a whole.
“We formed the Kenora Coalition to End Human Trafficking to fight human trafficking in our city. We have seen it in various shapes and forms in Kenora. We want to change the mindset that it’s not happening here. We need to create an understanding of what trafficking is. Common misconceptions include somebody being chained in a basement, moved across the country, locked in a cube-van. While those things do happen, it’s often more subtle than that. Psychological control, coercion, drug-addicted and controlled through the access of drugs. It’s insidious."
"As we gain a better understanding of it and know what to look for, we’ll uncover more instances of offences that could possibly meet the criteria of human trafficking,” he added.
Ontario is a major centre for human trafficking in Canada, accounting for more than two-thirds of cases nationally. Indigenous women and girls are among the most targeted and over-represented groups of trafficked individuals in the province. Most police-reported cases of human trafficking in Ontario involve sex trafficking.
Harinder Malhi, Minister of the Status of Women, explains how people are targeted.
“Traffickers spot and exploit vulnerabilities to forge a bond with someone, and then use tactics like threats, emotional abuse, drugs and sheer violence to force them to perform labour or sex acts.”
Ontario is providing approximately $18.6 million to 44 partners and agencies for projects up to three years as part of the Strategy to End Human Trafficking. The Kenora Sexual Assault Centre is one of the 44 partners named. The strategy was launched in 2016, and aims to increase awareness and coordination efforts, improve survivors’ access to services and enhance justice-sector initiatives.
“The justice response is important, but so are wraparound supports to support survivors. Our goal is to ensure survivors can get the services they need – whether it’s a safe place to live, intensive counselling, employment training, addictions treatment, or all of the above,” explains Minister of Community and Social Services, Helena Jaczek.
Bernie adds that the messaging materials that the OPP are handing out will include contact information for various social services to help anyone who may be affected by human trafficking. The Kenora Sexual Assault Centre has a 24 hour crisis and support line – 1-800-565-6161. The Sunset Area Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services has a toll-free line – 1-877-467-2815. He says that if you are in immediate danger, call 911. Bernie says that the collaborative efforts of many social services and organizations in the community is crucial to helping end human trafficking in Kenora.
“We’re one member of the Kenora Coalition to End Human Trafficking. We have a long list of partners, the OPP is just one of those partners. The success that we have had in creating this coalition is due to the dedication and participation of all of our partners in Kenora. Together we are stronger. Together we can make an impact and help lessen the instances of human trafficking. We hope to educate the public as well. It’s a collaborative effort in the truest sense,” Bernie added.
Human Trafficking Awareness Day was created by the Ontario government through the Anti-Human Trafficking Act in May 2017. February 22 was chosen because on February 22, 2007, the House of Commons of Canada passed a motion condemning the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
For more information:
Human traffickers charged
KSAC tackling human trafficking
Aiming to stop human trafficking
Help stop human trafficking
Human trafficking survivor set to address all-girls gathering
Ontario – Human Trafficking