Human trafficking isn’t just something that happens in the movies.
Since 2009, police services in Canada have reported 1,708 incidents of human trafficking, and whether it is for forced labour in the fields or in the sex trade, the issue is one that impacts every city across the province, says Det. Const. Michelle Jansen with the Barie police human-trafficking unit.
Jansen, who is also a member of a multi-jurisdictional joint task force to combat human trafficking, said Barrie serves as a gateway for traffickers moving victims north and south to other locations.
“Barrie lies on a 400-series highway… and it is part of the mechanism in which some traffickers transport their victims around the province. This is a stop along the way of going north or south,” she said, adding roadside stops such as ONroutes, as well as local motels, can serve as “hot spots” for traffickers.
Jansen urges people to be aware of their surroundings when they're near those areas.
“If something doesn’t look right, there is reason to question it. Does it look like someone doesn’t have control of their own movement? Is someone not very verbal (or) is somebody speaking for them all the time? Especially at an ONroute. … Who is the one doing all the transactions? … And keep in mind what the victims are possibly wearing at the time,” she said.
“There are a lot of small indicators that can make up the totality of the circumstances that may cause somebody to be concerned.”
Samantha Clarke sits on the board of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, and is a commercial driver solutions manager at Barrie’s DriveWise, which hosted an event Wednesday at its south-end location to try to bring awareness to human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is a huge issue all across Ontario right now, and we are trying to spread awareness," Clarke said. "We have our big #KnowHumanTrafficking trailer that will be out and about this week so the community can see it going around. Truck drivers, we are out there and we are on the roads every day.
"Believe it or not, this happens so often at the ONroutes, so we offer free online training for truck drivers, and for anyone really, to see how you can spot it, what you can do if you do think it’s happening," she added.
Clarke said she has undergone a lot of training over the last year and admits she didn't know just how big of an issue human trafficking was in Ontario.
“I had no idea how often this happens in Canada. I was completely blind to it and I think that’s the biggest thing is that people just don’t realize. The more people that know, the more people can help stop this," she said.
Jansen said anyone who thinks they have seen a person who they believe is being trafficked should call police or the National Human Trafficking Hotline for advice.