MPP Laurie Scott calls for Ontario task force to protect sex slavery victims
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Ontario is in the grips of homegrown human trafficking, says a veteran Tory MPP, who is calling for the creation of a provincial task force on sex slavery.
Laurie Scott, the member for Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock, says women and girls as young as 11 years old are being forced into prostitution here and they are not newcomers from the former Eastern Bloc looking for a better life — they are Canadian-born.
“I’ve heard stories of girls being targeted at the mall food court, the parking lot at their high school or a house party they attended with friends,” she told the legislature last week.
“This province is home to the largest number of domestic human trafficking cases, where victims are born and raised right here in Ontario,” said Scott, who presented a non-binding motion calling on the government to form a special team dedicated to rooting out human trafficking.
It would be similar to the existing guns and gangs unit, in which police officers, Crown prosecutors and social workers work together as a team from beginning to end of an investigation.
“Through this combination of expertise, the task force achieves the dual purpose of apprehending criminals and assisting victims,” Scott said in the introduction to her motion, which passed with all-party support.
Asked whether the passage of the non-binding motion meant a task force would be established, a spokeswoman for Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi said the government would continue to work with its partners “to combat this very serious issue.”
Scott said it’s also important to co-ordinate support for women and girls escaping exploitation.
“One aspect where a provincial task force would be immeasurable would be its ability to help facilitate the creation of safe houses solely for the purpose of sheltering human trafficking victims,” she said.
MPPs were told how pimps frequently move prostitutes up and down the Highway 401 corridor both to meet demand and to make police detection much more difficult.
“Young women are lured through personal relationships, systemically isolated from the family and friends, psychologically and physically abused by those who they trusted and in some cases loved,” said Scott.
Human trafficking was recently front and centre at a legislative select committee on sexual violence and harassment against women. Scott is a member of that committee.
Among those that appeared before the committee was Katarina MacLeod, a former prostitute whose agency, Rising Angels, deals with women trying to escape that life. She said modern-day slavery is out of control.
“From what I see working on the front lines it is getting worse … it is really exploding,” MacLeod told Torstar News Service adding many of the women she sees are under 18.
She said she is hearing of more and more women moving from hotel to hotel, in many cases not even knowing what city they are in.
MacLeod agreed a specialized team in the justice system “fighting for these girls” is needed.
Several police services across the province have vice squads that deal with human trafficking and informally share information.
York Regional Police is recognized for its progressive work on human smuggling, especially in dealing with sex trade workers. Det. Sgt. Peter Casey said the force has not arrested a woman on solicitation charges in the past seven years — but it does throw pimps in jail.
The people behind the smuggling range from organized crime to teenage boys pimping out girls in their schools because there is “huge” money to be made, said Casey.
“Let’s put it this way, if you are a drug dealer … you can only sell that kilo of cocaine once, but if you are a pimp and have a number of young vulnerable women you are exploiting, you can exploit them over and over and over again, day after day.”
Experts said a woman working in the sex trade can generate revenues of $280,000 a year. And that often goes straight into a pimp’s pocket.
Casandra Diamond, director of BridgeNorth, an agency in York Region dedicated to helping commercially sexually exploited women and children, said human traffickers maintain control over the women through threats of violence and by keeping them doped up.
“I worked with a girl many years ago in the sex trade who had broken a rule according to her pimp, then disappeared for about 3½ to four months,” said Diamond, a former sex trade worker. “And when she finally turned back up we asked what had happened and she said her pimp took her to a hotel room where he broke both of her legs
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services says it has provided about $1.4 million in funding since 2003 to 11 projects under the Proceeds of Crime–Front Line Policing Grant, to help police combat human trafficking in Ontario.
With files from The Canadian Press