As a border town and on the Highway 17 corridor, Sault Ste. Marie is vulnerable to human trafficking issues, especially with young people and women, said Sault MPP Ross Romano.
Algoma Family Services will receive $1.2 million over the next five years to turn its attention to help young victims and survivors of human trafficking to provide them with the intervention and counselling they need.
Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children’s and Women’s Issues and Sault MPP Ross Romano announced the funding Monday.
“This is outstanding news. Our community has been struggling with issues for some time,” Romano said.
As a border town and on the Highway 17 corridor, Sault Ste. Marie is vulnerable to human trafficking issues, especially with young people and women, he said.
“It’s a horrible crime across the province and it impacts us greatly and we don’t hear enough about it,” he said.
The funding is part of the $307 million five-year strategy announced last year, the largest investment for human trafficking in Canada.
In February, new and amended legislation called the Combatting Human Trafficking Act was introduced to better support victims and survivors and strengthen roles of stakeholders to help protect those who are exploited and deter traffickers through law enforcement.
“Through our government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy, we are taking strong action to address child sex trafficking,” said Dunlop. “By investing in dedicated supports for children and youth and proposing legislative changes, we are making prevention and early intervention a top priority so we can help more young people who are exiting trafficking heal from the trauma and reduce the risk of re-exploitation.”
Ali Juma, CEO of Algoma Family Services, said while regional statistics are not currently available, that is an area the funding will target in collaboration with its partners and develop a strategy to develop better statistical data.
National statistics indicate that the average age of human traffickers is 13 years old and 70 per cent are under the age of 25. Datas also shows that 28 per cent are under the age of 18. Two-thirds of human trafficking in Canada takes place in Ontario.
Dunlop said new legislation will also help authorities collect data across the province.
Juma said the funding will be used to hire two additional full-time staff members. It was focus on outreach, raising awareness about the issue, supporting survivors and holding those accountable.
The new program is funded through the province’s Anti-Human Trafficking Community Supports Fund to increase services. It will provide group and individual counselling for at-risk children and youth aged 11 to 17, supports for vulnerable populations such as racialized individuals and newcomers, as well as intensive services for victims and families.
A new province-wide marketing campaign is targetting teens as well as parents of children and youth to raise awareness and ensure that everyone knows where to get help.
Romano said that Sault Ste. Marie has seen its share of drug addiction and drug addiction often leads into further crime, including those addicted enter the drug and sex trade.
“We want to make sure young people are safe and we are providing the supports to keep them safe,” he said. “The pandemic has only increased mental health and drug issues. It’s been a difficult struggle for so long . . . I welcome this announcement.”
Juma noted that the work will not be done in a silo. Collaboration and partnering with other organizations including the Sault Area Hospital, police and the legal community will be an important tool.
Lisa Case, SAH’s director of clinical programs, said the sexual assault centre, the emergency room and addiction services will continue to collaborate with its partners to help support and reduce the risk of those in the community who are vulnerable.
Case said the withdrawal management support group and the new wellness bus will also work to reduce and prevent human trafficking in the area.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Community Supports and Indigenous-led Initiatives provides funding for 27 new projects across Ontario.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide.