Ontario announces $307M investment to take on human trafficking
'We're going to keep up the fight to protect out kids,' said Premier Doug Ford
Ontario's government is investing $202 million in new funding to take on human trafficking, and Premier Doug Ford says he's sending a message to criminals — "We're coming for you."
That money will be bundled with $105 million from an existing fund, adding up to a total of $307 million to support survivors and bolster law enforcement over the next five years.
At an announcement in St. Catharines Friday morning, Ford described human trafficking as a "disgusting" industry that profits off the backs of the province's most vulnerable.
"No child should ever live in fear of violence or exploitation," said the premier. "We're going to keep up the fight to protect our kids."
The "vast majority" of that money will go toward survivor support, Solicitor General Slyvia Jones explained, while $70 million will be funding for the justice sector.
As part of the strategy the province plans to do the following:
- Create a public awareness campaign aimed at educating children, parents and the public to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
- Providing law enforcement with "more specialized Crown prosecution support" for human trafficking, coordination across police services and intelligence gathering in the correctional system.
- Investment in "intervention teams" made up of police and child protection services and including human trafficking awareness in the education curriculum as well as creating licensed residences for victims.
- Supporting survivors with new funding for community-based supports and Indigenous-led initiatives to provide more services and support through the court process.
It's the largest investment in anti-human trafficking in the country, according to Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues.
She added that as Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately targeted by trafficking, up to $4 million in funding will be used to support specific resources embedded across the strategy to meet their needs.
Those include Indigenous-led supports for survivors such as counselling, cultural teachings, healing ceremonies and victims services.
The average age of recruitment into human trafficking is 13, according to the government's statistics. And about two-thirds of human trafficking incidents that are reported to police happen in Ontario.
"It could be your daughter, cousin, sister or friend," said Dunlop. "Our government will not tolerate human trafficking."
The premier also promised to take a "hard look" at the legislative tools in place around trafficking and said he has a message he plans to share with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"Let's get tough on crime. Once and for all. Let's ... put these nasty people in jail and throw away the key."
Centre praises 'comprehensive' strategy
In a statement emailed to CBC, Julia Drydyk, manager of research and policy at The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said the organization is pleased to see investment and looking forward to learning more about the details of the strategy.
The announcement follows round table discussions involving survivors, Indigenous communities and law enforcement over the summer.
One of those consultations included staff from the London Abused Women's Centre, where executive Director Megan Walker says staff currently work with about 125 trafficked women and girls.
She described the government's strategy as "groundbreaking," adding it speaks to the seriousness of the issue and the province's willingness to tackle it.
The centre focuses on four key pillars when it comes to trafficking: ensuring survivors have immediate access to services, advocating for legislation to battle it, providing a place for women and girls to go and making sure the public is aware of the issue.
Walker said the new strategy is "unique" because it addresses all four of those areas.
"I can honestly say in my 23 year-career of working with trafficked and prostituted women and girls ... this is the most comprehensive plan I have ever seen."
The "ginormous" boost in funding also means survivors can be helped right away, something Walker said is crucial.
"What it says to me is that the voices of survivors, those women and girls who have had to live through this, their voices were heard," she added. "That is a really powerful thing to have happened for those women who really risked so much to come forward and share their experiences."