Ontario Premier Doug Ford, with Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, announces $20 million in funding to fight human trafficking. Government of Ontario photo

Funds to fight trafficking just a start, say advocates

By 
  • December 3, 2019

Joy Smith is pleased that the Ontario government has stepped up with $20 million in annual funding to fight human trafficking, but these dollars and more need to be replicated by other provinces in combatting the problem.

While the funding announced by Ontario Nov. 28 is welcome, it’s only a start, said Smith, a leading advocate against human trafficking worldwide. Where the money really needs to be targeted is in education to make youth and their families aware of the scourge that Smith has battled against as a teacher, a member of the Manitoba legislature, as an MP in Ottawa where she spearheaded a number of bills targeting human trafficking and now as head of the Winnipeg-based Joy Smith Foundation.

“There is just not enough money put out on preventing human trafficking,” said Smith, who was first alerted to the widespread problem by her son Edward Riglin, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who worked in the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit. “Education is our greatest weapon against this.”

The Ontario government’s announcement is a move in the right direction, said Smith, with the bulk ($12.3 million) aimed at prevention and specialized services for victims. Prevention will curb the exorbitant costs that follow, which sees about $600,000 spent on the rehabilitation of each survivor.

“We have to educate the students, we have to educate the parents, before it happens,” she said.

Too often, it only becomes an issue for people when one of their kids gets caught up in trafficking that could lead them into the sex trade or some sort of forced labour, said Smith.

The Ontario funds come on top of promised funding from Ottawa announced Sept. 4. The federal government pledged $57.22 million over five years and then $10.28 million annually beyond that. It’s now up to the other provinces to come on board, said Smith.

“Every province should be stepping up,” she said.

Human trafficking has been on the rise in Canada, but is very hard to measure. Numbers compiled by Statistics Canada show in 2016 there were 340 incidents of human trafficking reported to police across Canada. Between 2009 and 2016, there were 1,099 incidents reported, 723 in Ontario. Experts in the field believe this is only a small number of people actually trafficked in Canada. 

Mark Aston is executive director of Covenant House Toronto, the largest agency in Canada serving youth who are homeless, trafficked or at risk. For 40 years Covenant House has been a leader in supporting survivors of sex trafficking and helps youth who are at risk of becoming involved. Aston said sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada and believes it is under-reported, under-estimated and misunderstood. The province’s announcement, he said, combined with the federal funding, are “important steps against this terrible crime.”

“Combatting this crime requires a multi-pronged approach with all levels of government, in addition to collaboration across various industries and sectors, with a focus on awareness-raising, prevention and capacity-building in the social services sector in order to increase direct support to survivors,” said Aston in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

In announcing the strategy, Ontario Premier Doug Ford took aim at “these disgusting crimes.”

“Every day across Ontario, young women and children are being lured into human trafficking by criminals who rob them of their safety and dignity,” said Ford. He credited Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, for developing a strategy “to raise awareness of these disgusting crimes, ensure survivors get the supports they need and bring their traffickers to justice.”

The money will be spread among services for victims, law enforcement initiatives, justice sector supports and prevention. Smith would like to see more aimed at schools and implementing programs within the curriculum to warn students.

“Get it out there and get the kids protected,” she said.

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