A province-wide crackdown on human trafficking has resulted in more than 230 charges against 28 people.
It is the work of the Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy, which involves 21 police agencies, including Thunder Bay Police, Treaty Three Police and OPP.
Treaty Three Police Inspector Trisha Rupert says they were able to assist 61 victims since forming in December 2021.
“At the centre of the human trafficking investigations are the people who are being exploited, the victims. Often individuals who come from extremely vulnerable populations such as migrant workers, Indigenous women and girls, at-risk youth and those who may be socially or economically disadvantaged are at the highest risk of being exploited by traffickers,” says Rupert.
She adds approximately 50 per cent of the trafficked women and girls in Canada are Indigenous.
The victims in the IJFS investigations range in age from 12 to 47.
Those accused range from 18 to 44 years old.
OPP Detective Inspector Jordan Whitesell notes 72 human trafficking charges were laid.
Hundreds of other charges were also laid, including assault, uttering threats, extortion, and harassment.
“For example, an investigation in 2022 was initiated by one survivor of human trafficking who notified the police. From this initial survivor’s account, the IJFS was able to identify other victims that were being trafficked by the same individual. It resulted in several human trafficking and assault charges,” says Whitesell.
Rupert notes that traffickers will exploit and use manipulative techniques to isolate victims from loved ones, creating a reliance on them to meet their physical and emotional needs.
“Victims become dependent on their traffickers, making this crime all the more challenging for law enforcement. Traffickers form a bond with their victim, as a relationship, through violence or blackmail, and it makes it difficult to leave,” says Rupert.
She says the IJFS includes a victim specialist from the OPP Victim Centred Approach Team that provides victims and survivors of human trafficking with access to further support.
If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call police or the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.