Dale Carruthers London Free Press Publishing date: Feb 23, 2021
Police and women’s advocates have said it for years: Highway 401 through Southwestern Ontario is a key a gateway for human trafficking.
Now, there’s research to back it up.
A study by the Centre to End Human Trafficking found that sex traffickers use a network of corridors, including Highway 401, to maximize profit, avoid police detection and keep their victims isolated.
“The 401 is one of the most prevalent and well-known human trafficking corridors in Canada,” the agency’s executive director, Julia Drydyk, said Tuesday.
“You have all of those population centres that are so easy to access by car. So it really gives (traffickers) the flexibility to move as soon as they’re being detected, but it also means that there’s lots of markets quite cheaply and quite easily to exploit their victims.”
The study identified London, Windsor, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia as commercial sex markets in Southwestern Ontario.
Hotels that dot the outskirts of south London are “hot spots” for human trafficking, Drydyk said.
Human trafficking is defined as the exploitation of people through force, fraud or coercion. There are two types: sex trafficking and labour trafficking.
Researchers interviewed police and front-line workers for the study that focused on sex trafficking. They also reviewed media reports and academic studies.
“Really the finding shows that these (human trafficking) corridors pass through every community in Canada – large and small,” Drydyk said. “This is not an urban issue. This is not an Ontario issue. This is a Canadian issue.”
The report was released hours before Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced anti-human trafficking legislation that would give police more tools to crack down on the crime and impose stricter penalties for offenders.
The bill, if passed, requires hotels to maintain a list of guests that police can request without a judge’s order in human trafficking investigations.
The legislation would also require companies that sell sexual services to publish their contact information and respond to law enforcement within set time frames.
Premier Doug Ford said the province has become a “hub” for human trafficking and the legislation is desperately needed.
Drydyk applauded the proposed legislation, announced on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, but questioned why funding wasn’t committed to support the agencies that work with trafficking survivors.
“One of the biggest challenges is around emergency and short-term housing,” she said. “Especially for human trafficking survivors that have such incredible amounts of trauma and complex needs, sending them into an over-capacity system can do more harm than good. So we need to make sure that there’s a safe place for people to go.”
Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, echoed Drydyk’s call for funding.
“Victims of human trafficking need immediate access to service. If they call an organization and are told they’ll be placed on a waitlist, that woman, or that girl, will not likely ever call back again,” Walker said.
Last year, the London Abused Women’s Centre provided support to 1,342 prostituted, trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls, Walker said.
“There has been a significant growth in the number of women and underage girls who are being trafficked.”
with files from Canadian Press