By Mia Jensen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As police across Ontario mark Human Trafficking Awareness Day, city police are reminding the community that Sudbury is a hub for transient traffickers.
On Wednesday, an update on the progress of the Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS) was provided to raise awareness of the complexity of trafficking investigations.
Formed in March 2020, the IJFS is a provincially funded collaboration between police agencies across Ontario, including the OPP, and multiple municipal and First Nations groups. In total, 21 police agencies are involved, including Greater Sudbury Police Services.
The group became active in December 2021. In its update, the IJFS revealed that it had conducted 65 investigations since that time, charging 28 people with 72 human trafficking and 167 additional charges laid.
It said it also assisted 61 victims. That included providing services and support through local victims services.
Victims also ranged in age, with some being as young as 12. The oldest was 47.
According to Det. Const. Stephane Brouillette of Greater Sudbury Police, the IJFS has made it easier to address the cross-jurisdictional nature of many human trafficking cases.
“Collaboration through all members of the IJFS is so significant and having access and the ability to reach out to members throughout the province is unbelievable. There are so many success stories every day.”
In Ontario, human trafficking can be more difficult to investigate than in other provinces, due in part to the high number of large urban areas, easy access to major transportation and transit hubs, and an abundance of large hotels and accommodation facilities.
But in Sudbury, Brouillette said, the challenges are even more unique.
“Sudbury’s the largest urban centre in Northern Ontario,” he said. “It’s not only a hub, but if anyone wants to travel east, west, north or south, you have to travel through Sudbury. Sudbury acts as a part of what we refer to as a circuit, where traffickers are transporting their victims, a location where they’ll stop and do business.”
The transient nature of human trafficking has created significantly challenges for investigators.
Those challenges are compounded by the fact these investigations tend to be resources intensive. Not only do they require collaboration between multiple jurisdictions, they can also take over a year to complete.
In the digital age, many of those investigations begin online.
“Some of the investigations started out with some of the more proactive work we do in the human trafficking unit,” he said.
“Reaching out to potential victims in order to identify whether or not they are being controlled or threatened in participating in the sex trade. And basically developing a relationship with the victims where they feel confident and have the trust in the police to break away from their traffickers.”
Brouillette said investigators keep an eye on new and known websites that advertise escorts and sexual services to identify any listings with potential red flags.
“We begin to look for indicators within the ads themselves and try to identify some of the potential victims online for certain risk factors, to determine whether or not we believe any one ad could indicate a potential victim.”
Indicators can be found in both the text and the photos in the ads, but he declined to elaborate on what exactly police look for.
“Some of the factors we keep as an investigative discovery tool, and that’s really something we don’t like to share,” he said. “If that gets leaked out, that’s one of the tools we lose.”
Education and awareness, according to Broillette, are key to addressing human trafficking.
He said victims are typically trafficked by people they know.
Individuals, especially those communicating with new people, should be wary of those who are controlling or make unreasonable demands.
An unhealthy amount of expensive gifts can also be a red flag.
“It’s such a violation of the person, body, mind and soul,”
said Brouillette. “It’s such a betrayal and the amount of trauma is significant. Education and awareness is such an important piece. The police can only do so much. It helps us shed a light on what’s taking place in the shadows, behind closed doors.”
Mia Jensen is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE SUDBURY STAR
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.