On February 22, 2007, the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion condemning the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation, officially adopting February 22 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Canada.
A contemporary form of slavery, human trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/or exercising control, direction or influence over a person to exploit them, usually sexually, or through forced labour.
‘Human trafficking is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The extent of human trafficking, both in Canada and internationally, is difficult to assess due to the hidden nature of the crime, the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward to law enforcement and the difficulty of identifying victims. Men, women and children fall victim to this crime, although women represent the majority of victims in Canada. Those who are likely to be at-risk include:
- Indigenous women and girls;
- migrants and new immigrants;
- LGBTQ2 persons;
- persons living with disabilities;
- children in the child welfare system;
- at-risk youth;
- those who are socially or economically disadvantaged;
- and migrant workers who may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to many factors, such as language barriers, working in isolated/remote areas, lack of access to services and support, and lack of access to accurate information about their rights.
Ontario accounts for more than two-thirds of human trafficking cases nationally.
The majority of survivors are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, while Indigenous women and girls are among the most targeted and over-represented groups of trafficked individuals according to a 2014 report commissioned by the federal government.
In 2017, Ontario passed the Anti-Human Trafficking Act and created a Provincial Human Trafficking Prosecution Team to prosecute human trafficking cases and ensure a coordinated provincial approach. To keep pace with the increasing volume and complexity of human trafficking cases across the province, Ontario’s anti-human trafficking strategy provides a coordinated approach to law enforcement, with increased capacity for policing, Crown prosecutors and intelligence gathering.
Shelley Gilbert, coordinator of social work services at, Legal Assistance of Windsor, said “Legal and social advocates need to come together to provide the best level of service” for victims of human trafficking—the “perfect marriage” of both legal and psychosocial remedies to the problem.” Gilbert further stated that seasonal agricultural workers make up some of those exploited by human traffickers. Legal Aid Ontario is part of the infrastructure ~ where the justice system and human trafficking intersect. Survivors can seek out help through Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
In 2014, there were 206 police-reported violations of human trafficking nationally, accounting for less than one percent of all police-reported incidents. The majority of victims were female (93 percent), while the majority of accused were male (83 percent). Between 2009 and 2014, 47 percent of victims of police-reported human trafficking were between the ages 18 and 24, while one‑quarter were under the age of 18. Persons accused of police-reported human trafficking tended to be under the age of 35. A person can be trafficked anywhere, including in their home community. Worldwide, the United Nations reports that human trafficking is estimated to affect 21 million people.
While human trafficking is known to be a vastly under-reported crime, Ontario is believed to be a major centre for human trafficking in Canada, with over two-thirds of reported cases originating in Ontario. Highways are corridors. Indigenous communities intersect those corridors and have been targets of human traffickers, looking to groom and draw away a vulnerable young person.
The OPP Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) Investigation Coordination Unit has hired a researcher to examine human trafficking in northwest Ontario, with a specific focus on Indigenous persons.
As human trafficking victims are often from vulnerable populations and do not identify as victims to the police, the researcher will independently gather information while providing anonymity to victims who may wish to come forward.
Funded by the Solicitor General for Ontario, the OPP announced on Feb.10, 2021 that the organization has hired Dr. Olsen Harper, a member of the Lac Seul First Nation, to identify the reality of human trafficking in northwest Ontario and its impact on Indigenous individuals and communities. The research will serve to support the OPP with responses to this kind of crime.
The researcher will consult with northern Indigenous communities and organizations in urban centres to collect information from the public, police and survivors to identify sexually exploitative human trafficking. The increased knowledge will enhance training and coordination of resources to reduce this violent crime. If you are a survivor of human trafficking, or have information valuable to the research, contact Dr. Olsen Harper at 249-385-7217 or email to: [email protected]
Through the organization PACT Ottawa (Persons Against The Crime of Human Trafficking), ‘Project Northern Outreach’ supported a circle of Anishinaabe Grandmothers in 2015 to form an action alliance designed to understand the nature of human trafficking in their indigenous communities, and to prevent human trafficking through advocacy, education of cultural teachings and healing practices.
An Anishinaabe worldview respects Grandmothers as authorities, educators and keepers of their cultural and foundational laws. Project Northern Outreach convened 3 gatherings of 12 respected grandmothers from along the shores of L. Huron, including the areas of Sault St Marie, Thessalon, Manitoulin Island, and Serpent River. From those initial gatherings, Kii-ga-do-waak Nookimisuk Grandmothers Council, ‘The Kii-Ga-Do-Waak’ (Grandmother Council) was formed.
Today, Kii-Ga-Do-Waak is a not-for-profit organization. The clear and present goal for the Grandmothers Council is to build a traditional healing retreat/lodge on 250 acres north of Iron Bridge near Bellingham, Ontario. The facebook page, found here, is a way to contact the grandmothers. The Kii-Ga-Do-Waak Facebook page is a ‘private’ group however, Grandmother, Isabelle Meawasige shared that individuals are encouraged to reach out and leave messages for the grandmothers through the inbox.
Isabelle Meawasige (Serpent River) Marly Day (Cutler) and Alison Recollet (Wiikwemkoong) connected with each other in The Sault on Saturday evening. Superior Media had a chance to sit down with the Grandmothers at The Quattro where they reflected on where they have been and where they are going.
The Grandmothers Council has participated in several memorial walks, including in 2016 when an International Bridge Walk took place in October. Approximately 60 people joined the Grandmothers to walk for social justice from Lake Superior State University grounds – Norris Centre (Sault, Michigan) to the Indian Friendship Centre in Sault, Ontario.
In October 2017, The Ngookimisnaanuk Grandmothers held a three day gathering in The Sault ~ Renowned Indigenous activist Diane Redsky, Executive Director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc, Dr. Sheila Smith from The United Nations – Human Trafficking International portfolio, Shelley Knott and Collin Graham, ONWA – Thunder Bay (Ontario Native Women’s Association) were among the weekends guest speakers. Collin Graham stressed, “It is key that when a victim is identified, all barriers are removed to ensure they are survivors.”
The gathering was a partnership with several local and provincial indigenous organizations. On the final day, a memorial walk was held along the Sault’s waterfront to The Indian Friendship Centre on East Street.
Based on extensive engagement with over 3,360 community members and the ongoing relationship with 250 self-identified human trafficking survivors who have shared their stories, ONWA has developed 14 recommendations rooted in relationship and collaboration through #safeSPACES.
On Thursday, Feb. 22nd, 2018, communities across the province of Ontario took time to mark the first ever provincial anti-human trafficking day. Locally, members of several First Nation communities along the north shore of L. Huron and L. Superior came together in a peaceful demonstration at the juncture of Highway 11/17 and Hwy. 17B.
Memorial walks and marches now take place across the country, provinces and territories on Feb. 22nd, and again on July 30, which marks the UN World Anti-Human Trafficking Day.
Grandmothers Council members Marly Day and Alison Recollet led the Feb. 22nd, 2018 demonstration. “Through ceremony and traditional healing we can help to lift up these women whose spirits have been broken. They need us, and we are here for them.” they said. Recollet has developed a series of youtube videos, focusing on the journey towards healing from sexual violence and the Grandmothers in Action.
According to the OPP, across Ontario, ‘more and more victims are being recruited from small towns and lured with promises of love and a ‘better life’. Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purposes of exploitation, typically in the sex industry or for forced labour. Human trafficking victims are often from extremely vulnerable populations including migrant workers, new immigrants, Indigenous women and youth, at-risk youth and those who are socially/economically disadvantaged. These victims rarely identify themselves to police or other authorities.’
“The highways between Thunder Bay to the Sault and further east to Sudbury is a known corridor for smuggling humans.” Day said. “Indigenous women and girls are among the most vulnerable for human trafficking. When they come down from remote northern first nation communities to Thunder Bay or The Sault, they are often alone and don’t have money. They are lured into a relationship that takes them into a life of darkness. We need to stop this crime.”
Any person with information regarding possible instances of human trafficking should immediately contact any OPP Detachment or their nearest police authority.
The OPP tip line is: 1-888-310-1122. A person can also reach out to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).
If you know something – or your ‘gut’ is telling you ‘something ain’t right’, please say something.
A person can also call 1-833-900-1010 – the Canadian national hotline for reporting suspected human trafficking.
The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is a confidential, multilingual service, operating 24/7 to connect victims and survivors with social services, law enforcement, and emergency services, as well as receive tips from the public.
The hotline uses a victim-centered approach when connecting human trafficking victims and survivors with local emergency, transition, and/or long-term supports and services across the country, as well as connecting callers to law enforcement where appropriate.
Human Trafficking in persons is an issue that the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW Canada) has been addressing since a convention they held in 2000. A resolution was passed during the Sault Ste. Marie Convention after it came to BPW Canada members’ attention that young girls were being smuggled into Canada from Mexico, Thailand, India and the Philippines and other countries illegally, and were being held as sex slaves. Canadian laws prohibited the sexual procurement of children in Canada and in other countries in the world.
The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW Canada) is a non-sectarian, non-profit, and non-partisan organization that works to improve the economic, political, social and employment conditions of working women.
On February 22, 2019, across the province, BPW Ontario members met with MPP’s and their staff to introduce the #ProjectMapleLeaf Human Sex Trafficking Awareness Campaign, which ran from February 22 to July 30, 2019.
At the United Nations, in Committee meetings on the Status of Women in 2005, there were parallel workshops addressing the expansion of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls around the world. This issue has been moving forward and gaining traction at all levels of government ~ so too has the issue been, and continues to be taken up within indigenous communities, municipalities and townships across the province.
The crime of human trafficking has many faces. Vulnerable young girls and boys become so groomed – so isolated – so broken that they actually lose their voice. Speaking about it is horrifying. Writing about it is horrifying – but raise our collective voices we must. There isn’t a community in this country that is immune from human traffickers casting a net. The statistics are there to prove it.
Evidence suggests over 90% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from within Canada’s borders – that Canada has become a hotbed for human sex trafficking of minor-aged children. 60% of all of Canada’s human trafficking can be linked in some way to activities that occur along the 401 corridor, the Highway 11/17 corridor and others – all that act as ‘gateways’ to communities. In 2016, the rate of human trafficking in Ontario was more than one and a half times the national rate. According to police-reported data collected between 2009 and 2016, 72% of victims of human trafficking were under 25 years of age.
In Canada, a 2013 RCMP study reported the victims of all domestic sex trafficking cases prosecuted in Canada between 2007 and 2013 have been female.
On February 22, 2019, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, #ProjectONroute was launched, a historic provincial human trafficking awareness campaign. #ProjectONroute was inspired by a 16-year-old survivor of sex trafficking who wanted to change the way victims of trafficking were portrayed in the media. In 2020, the campaign expanded across the Nation and rebranded as #ProjectMapleLeaf. On social media, a person can join the (hashtag) #EradicateChallenge.
Watch the video below – part of the collection Grandmother Alison Recollet is building as resources for communities everywhere.