Human trafficking happens all around us: Binesiwag

Allan Bradbury
Staff reporter

A new provincial fund aims to shine a light on one of northern Ontario’s dark secrets – human trafficking. Last month, the provincial government announced funding of more than $15.3 million over the next five years “to provide more young victims and survivors of human trafficking in Northern Ontario with the services they need.”

The funding will support new services in Fort Frances, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Timmins as well as five remote and 11 rural First Nation communities. In Fort Frances the funds will go to help Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services.

“We must support victims and protect those at risk of being subjected to human trafficking,” said Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River and Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “This investment will provide more supports for victims and survivors in northern Ontario, with a particular focus on increasing dedicated, Indigenous-led programs to help indigenous children and youth who are at risk, so they can stay safe, while also supporting those who have been trafficked through their recovery.”

The funding comes as part of “Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy 2020-2025.

Many people might not realize that human trafficking is a significant issue in the region. However, the release from the government indicates that “Ontario is a hub for trafficking, accounting for a majority of police-reported incidents in Canada.”

Jessica Wilson works with Binesiwag Center for Wellness in Fort Frances. She’s the program coordinator for Nanodogiikendaan, which means “seeking knowledge.” The program provides education and support for women, girls and 2SLGBTQ+ people who need help with mental health and other issues in their lives and helps local victims of human trafficking. She says people often don’t realize the extent of the trafficking that happens in the Fort Frances area.

“The first thing people go to, they think of the movie ‘Taken’,” Wilson said. Taken is an action movie which sees a father fight to rescue his daughter who is kidnapped by an elaborate international human smuggling ring while on holiday in Europe.

“That’s definitely a form of trafficking, but that’s international trafficking and that’s not what we see here,” Wilson said.

While victims of trafficking in the area are often transported to different places, it’s often only as far as Toronto or Winnipeg, maybe Vancouver at the farthest, Wilson says.

“A lot of individuals do get transported, but they do like a circuit, from Thunder Bay to Toronto,” Wilson said. “Then sometimes they will come back to Fort Frances and then they do Winnipeg to Edmonton, sometimes out to Vancouver and then make their way back to Fort Frances.”

The primary victims of trafficking that many know about are girls and women, though there certainly are boys and men who are trafficked as well. Wilson mostly works with girls and young women.

“I think it depends on the area, but this happens,” Wilson said. “There’s definitely young men and boys that are affected by this. I think, and this is just my opinion, that they don’t come forward as much as this is happening. There’s not the services for young men or boys and I don’t think they have a safe space to have those conversations.”

While trafficking can eventually take people to far-flung places, Wilson said in general, the girls and young women who get caught up in trafficking get started in their home communities and for many different reasons.

For some people it could be an addiction that causes them to turn towards sex work, Wilson says. Or perhaps they have had trouble finding work and they don’t have the basic necessities of life.

“It’s kind of a form of survival,” Wilson said. “Basic needs are not being met so they almost traffic themselves. There’s a lot of substance abuse so there’s the transaction of giving someone a service for a fix of drugs and that’s really really common in our area.”

Wilson does say though, that trafficking isn’t isolated to any particular part of society. People of any social stature can be trafficked.

“Trafficking doesn’t discriminate, this can happen to absolutely anybody,” Wilson said. “I feel like a lot of times people don’t even understand that they’re being trafficked. They don’t really know what’s attached to the drugs or maybe the first time it might be a place to party or the exchange of pictures. They don’t really know that there’s more attached to it. I think in the beginning they don’t understand the severity of those transactions. There are different people that are probably more prone to trafficking and maybe different situations, but I see this happening to absolutely everybody.”

Next week we’ll discuss how to tell if a loved one may be headed down a path that could be involved in trafficking and what you should do if they are.