An information board with a warning about human trafficking at borders and refugee arrival points is seen at the central railway station in Berlin March 16, 2022. CNS photo/Annegret Hilse, Reuters

Trafficking numbers down, but challenge is in accessing true figures

By 
  • June 16, 2022

Human trafficking incidents reported by Canadian police declined from 546 in 2019 to 515 in 2020, according to Statistics Canada, but advocates for victims are under no illusion that the numbers are dwindling.

Julia Drydyk, executive director of The Canadian Centre To End Human Trafficking, told The Catholic Register that “less than 10 per cent of people who have experienced trafficking” who call its Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline “want to speak to law enforcement.”

“Part of the reason is they worry that no one is going to believe them,” said Drydyk. “They may have had previously negative experiences with law enforcement. And also, realistically, we have seen very low conviction rates. ... (T)hey don’t believe that law enforcement will help them.”

The Trafficking in Persons in 2020 report, co-written by Shana Conroy and Danielle Sutton of the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics and released June 9, notes the myriad of challenges preventing experts from uncovering the true scope of human trafficking in Canada.

Isolation from the public, language barriers, a lack of health care, inadequate law enforcement training, victims’ fear and shame, a desire to protect their trafficker and distrust of authorities are among the reasons why so many fall through the cracks.

Conroy and Sutton also note that the pandemic may have skewed numbers, “wherein this type of crime might have been less likely to occur and also more likely to go undetected when it did occur.” Police-reported human trafficking had been on the rise steadily from 2010 to 2017, with a decline in 2018 before peaking in 2019.

“With widespread lockdown measures and restrictions, not only would there have been fewer venues open to facilitate human trafficking,” but potential victims would have been easier to hold without detection,” they wrote.

Drydyk and her team, however, don’t believe human trafficking was slowed by COVID-19.

“We have only seen the number of people calling the hotline increasing since the onset of the pandemic,” said Drydyk. “However, we don’t know if that is because the prevalence of human trafficking is increasing overall, or if more people are becoming aware and educated about the issue.”

Ontario and Nova Scotia reported higher rates of trafficking than the national average. Ontario accounted for 336 of the 515 detected cases. Nova Scotia, with 61, had the second most incidents in 2020. Most cases reported by police occurred in urban areas.

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