The Dryden Police Service is continuing to lead the fight against human trafficking in the area. As part of their Project Courage initiative, the DPS hosted a two-day human trafficking awareness conference for northwestern Ontario. Police, the community and front-line service and support providers were all in attendance, as well as nine expert speakers.
“Over the last five months we’ve worked with different partners in the community to create a training and awareness conference for area service providers, law enforcement and victim services,” said Inspector Ann Tkachyk with the Dryden Police Service. “We had roughly 80 people there, and we heard from subject experts from around the province in the area of human trafficking. Throughout the conference, we learned the signs of the abuse, the signs of the crime and how to identify victims. It was an amazing learning opportunity. If you didn’t have a chance to go, or you need help now, visit our Project Courage website, or call 911 if you need immediate help, and call your local authorities if you have information about someone that’s being trafficked, or someone that is trafficking someone else.”
Project Courage is a strategy that focuses on education, raising awareness and providing a coordinated multi-disciplinary approach to victims of human trafficking. This includes providing culturally appropriate restorative programs. The name Project Courage comes from the 7 Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.
The project aims to engage youth, including high risk youth who are targeted for human trafficking, and to provide support services and education to those being targeted in order to prevent it.
“We’ve recognized across the board that human trafficking is becoming a very, very under-reported and very serious crime,” Tkachyk added. Human trafficking is not only a big city problem. It’s a problem that all communities, regardless of size or location, is experiencing in one way or another. Sexual exploitation of girls and women is typically one of the largest issues around human trafficking. Young boys are also sexually exploited. Anybody can be a victim of this crime. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, what your education is, what your socioeconomic background is. It’s a very lucrative crime, with very talented criminals who are coercing, exploiting and intimidating people into the sex trade. Being on the Trans-Canada highway, like Dryden, like Kenora, like Thunder Bay, we are targets.”
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 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.
The conference was held at the Centre. It was funded through the Ministry of the Attorney General from the Civil Remedies Grant Program, in support of the Premier’s initiative to end human trafficking.