Manitoba

Manitoba needs better legislation to fight sex traffickers, advocates say

Manitoba has one of the most comprehensive strategies in the country to combat sex trafficking, but the province’s robust legislation still needs improvement, advocates say.

More funds needed for frontline community groups fighting sex trafficking trade, deputy chief says

Despite being leaders in the fight against the sex trafficking trade, Manitoba still has room for improvement, advocates at a meeting in Winnipeg Monday said. (Shutterstock)

Manitoba has one of the most comprehensive strategies in the country to combat sex trafficking, but the province's robust legislation still needs improvement, advocates say.

"Even though Manitoba is really kind of seen as a leader in this area, I still think we have a lot of room to improve," said Jennifer Richardson, manager with the province's Sexual Exploitation Unit.

The average age of youth exploited by the sex trafficking trade is dropping, with some estimates putting the number as low as the age of 13. Roughly 74 per cent of kids swept into the trade were at one point in the Child and Welfare System and have mental health issues

Richardson and others involved in efforts to hold offenders accountable met at the University of Winnipeg Monday night to discuss how to move forward.

'This really needs to be a response that everyone has a part in.' - Jennifer Richardson

Diane Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, said one way forward is to strengthen existing legislation and allow police to go after perpetrators of crimes with even more force.

"There are criminals behind it. They are changing and shifting all the time, their techniques, and it is hard to keep up with them," Redsky said.

Deputy Chief Danny Smyth with the Winnipeg Police Service said committing more officers to fighting sex trafficking isn't necessarily the solution. Funding workers on the frontline, however, could make a difference.

"There are some really strong community groups working in the frontline. They need to be like essential services here and really they need the stability through predictable funding," Smyth said. "We'll partner with those community groups and we do already."

'Extreme form of violence'

It took the province 14 years to devise its leading strategy and millions of dollars.

During that time, investigators have determined some sex traffickers can make $280,000 a year from just one person in the trade under their control.

Redsky said the simplest term to describe sex trafficking is "forced prostitution," and said it represents the "most extreme form of violence against women and girls."

Richardson said Manitoba is fighting sex trafficking in a number of unique ways. Manitoba was the first province to enact mandatory child pornography reporting and push through changes to the Child and Family Services Act, with what are now some of the toughest penalties in Canada for offenders.
Dozens of people attended a conference at the University of Winnipeg Monday to discuss how to better fight sex traffickers. (CBC)

Since 2013, Manitoba has also approached the problem in another way that separates it from other provinces. Police don't arrest sex trade workers; they arrest johns. That legislation was inspired by what's being done in some Nordic countries.

Richardson added that the community has to play a bigger role in fighting sex trafficking.

"This really needs to be a response that everyone has a part in," Richardson said.

With files from Sean Kavanagh