Human trafficking convictions remain challenging in Nova Scotia
Since being introduced as law in 2005, there have only been a handful of convictions across Canada
There continues to be few convictions for human trafficking but police in Nova Scotia say they are working to build strong cases in hopes the evidence will lead to more successful investigations.
Const. Natasha Jamieson, RCMP awareness coordinator for human trafficking, says the cases are complex and there are many reasons why they can be difficult to prove in court.
"It's not like a break and enter investigation or a common assault investigation where, as a law enforcement official, you see it as soon as you walk in the door or as soon as you have contact with that person," said Jamieson.
"These people have been stripped of a lot of who they are, and some have been isolated and taken away from family and friends and they've been told to distrust the police."
Since human trafficking was introduced as law in 2005, there have only been a handful of convictions across the country, according to Dalhousie University law professor Robert Currie.
"What seems to happen quite often is that the evidence doesn't sustain the fairly complicated human trafficking charge itself, and the Crown prosecutors and police will end up falling back on other other related activities like kidnapping, like assault and that sort of thing," he said.
"It's very tough to crack the human trafficking angle because of all of the difficulties associated with the evidence."
The most recent human trafficking charges dropped in Nova Scotia were against Duane Rhyno. The Lower Sackville lawyer was accused of exploiting a woman in the Annapolis Valley in 2014.
Another high-profile case involved a pair from North Preston who allegedly held a 15-year-old girl against her will.
The human trafficking charge against Andre Gray was dropped last year. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of confinement and common assault.
The human trafficking charge against Doreze Beals remains in place. He's scheduled back in court for trial on Jan. 22.
Human trafficking is about exploitation and does not necessarily involve movement, as defined by the Criminal Code.
"The key is that an action is taken physically against the victim for the purpose of trafficking. That means that the trafficking aspect itself — be it prostitution or something else — doesn't necessarily have to occur," said Currie.
Dealing with victims of human trafficking can be the most challenging part of an investigation.
"That person has gone through a very traumatic event and to begin have to be commended for having come forward at all. Some of the things that a victim has gone through is very similar to domestic and sexualized violence, so there could be PTSD involved, Stockholm syndrome and psychological, emotional and physical abuse that's occurred to them," said Jamieson.
'Disheartening to see'
When police investigations do not result in human trafficking convictions, Jamieson says "it can be disheartening to see something like that occur."
"There is a lot of work that goes into these investigations, and more so for the victim," she said.
Investigators often need to deal with officers, witnesses and victims in other jurisdictions.
Jamieson believes more education will help bring more human trafficking convictions.
"We're continually getting the education and awareness out there so that we can try to better have people understand what it is, have victims understand what it is that's going on and have police understand the laws and what they are able to do in relation to that," she said.