February 22 is 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.

In 2012, the federal government unveiled the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking to address the issue.

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 overrepresented 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.

Shelley Gilbert, coordinator of social work services at LAO‑supported Legal Assistance of Windsor, says “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.

In Windsor and surrounding Essex County, seasonal agricultural workers make up some of those exploited by human traffickers, says Gilbert.

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.

Worldwide, human trafficking is estimated to affect 21 million people.

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