Anti-human trafficking conference held in Barrie; fastest-growing crime on the planet
The slave trade is alive and doing well in Ontario.
On Monday morning, more than 200 law enforcement, social service workers, court service workers, healers and helpers agreed to work together to determine how to break through the chain of human trafficking.
“It’s been described as the fastest-growing crime on the planet and that’s pretty scary,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum at the kick-off of the antihuman trafficking conference at the Holiday Inn in Barrie.
Barnum told the crowded room that Ontario is recognized as a hub within Canada, for human trafficking, today’s slave-trade industry.
“When you hear stories, as you will in this conference, from victims who have been trafficked and victims who’ve been exploited and abused, they’re heartbreaking, they are heart-wrenching,” he said.
“And I defy any professional person that’s committed to their communities and committed to helping people, to not have their heart ripped out of their chest when they listen to these stories and understand how people have been victimized and abused, their identities stolen from them.
“It’s incredibly, incredibly hard to listen to and it increases our need to make sure we respond appropriately,” Barnum added.
The two-day conference was opened after a reading by an OPP officer who thanked the Indigenous nations and acknowledged the gathering in Barrie was on their traditional land on territory covered by Upper Canada treaties.
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) counsellor and Anishnaabeg elder, John Rice, explained Indigenous people believe their Creator sent people from the sky in a pure and clean form and that children are gifts from the creator and should be cherished as such.
“A lot of what I do in my work is about the spirit, about how we clean and keep our spirit pure,” Rice said.
“And when we think about what can go wrong in someone’s life, especially the very young, the very innocent and especially those ones we’ve made that promise to, if they’re hurt and there’s so much dirt thrown on their spirit, that their spirit could float back to the spirit world. It’s how we worry about it,” Rice added.
“They could go back to where they came from, that their spirits would leave us.”
Rice sang and drummed two traditional prayerful songs before the speakers approached the podium.
Funded by a civil remedies grant program, the conference included stories by survivors of sex and labour trafficking, how to provide service for victims, navigating the court process and prevention programs to protect youth.
OPP Insp. Tina Chalk, a leader on the anti-human trafficking investigation co-ordination team, and organizer of the conference, said by focusing on a victim-centred approach, officers will attend training to learn to question everyday occurrences to determine if a person is held against their will.
“If you’re stopping a car to write a ticket, look past that and ask questions of the child in that car,” Chalk said. “You can ask, ‘Is this your dad? Do you know where you are today? Where were you yesterday?’
“It’s not a North American thing, it’s a Canadian thing. It’s happening right here and we can do better,” she said.
A few kilometres away, the Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe Muskoka opened its doors Monday afternoon.
The new centre joins its sister facility in Orillia to offer a childfriendly approach to help children who’ve been the victims of child abuse.