A researcher who released a report about human trafficking in Nunavut two years ago says it's still a problem in the territory.
Helen Roos, an Iqaluit-based consultant, says as many as 15 to 20 per cent of Nunavut youth could be victims of trafficking. That includes forced sex work or labour.
"For people to think it's not happening is just, under-educated," said Roos.
She says human trafficking is akin to "modern day slavery." It can be a situation where someone is forced into prostitution or where they are forced into working for the purpose of exploitation.
Roos' November 2013 report was prepared for the Department of Justice and was largely anecdotal - it was also met with some disbelief when it was first published. But Roos says after talking more with people, she believes human trafficking is still happening in Nunavut.
She cited Inuit communities as vulnerable because of the high rates of extreme poverty, shortage of housing and levels of abuse. Roos said that makes women and girls more susceptible to being lured by the promise of work in the South, when instead they might find themselves forced into prostitution in Winnipeg or Ottawa.
"It's an underground crime," she said. "Unless you're living in that milieu, unless you're working at the frontline with that type of demographic, 99 per cent of Canadians are oblivious to this happening."
Nunavut RCMP say they have not had any human trafficking reports or investigations over the past couple of years, aside from the one in early 2013. A female charged in that case was not convicted.
Trafficking an 'epidemic'
Roos says human trafficking victims are often poor, homeless, young or struggling with addictions.
Simone Bell, who provides support for survivors of human trafficking in Ottawa and has worked with Inuit women from Nunavut, says trafficking is a real concern.
"It's everywhere," Bell said. "It's honestly just becoming an epidemic."
She says people who move south from Nunavut by themselves are more vulnerable to it.
"To have no family, to come into a big city — how easy that must be to fall victim to trafficking."
Roos says there's a lack of resources available to victims of trafficking in the North. She says some of the best programs are available in Ottawa, including a peer-mentoring program with survivors of trafficking, where Bell works.
"I think there's still a lot of work to be done, and the work to be done is the training, the awareness," Roos said.
Nunavut's Department of Family Services says it's strengthened its child protection legislation. It's also working with other groups to raise education and awareness about the issue.