The Ontario government is investing $11.5 million over three years in a pilot project that will see specialized intervention teams in Durham Region and the City of Toronto established to protect children and youth from sex trafficking.
The new Children at Risk of Exploitation (CARE) Units pair child protection workers with police officers on the frontlines to identify and locate children and youth who are being sex trafficked, connect victims and families to services, and investigate and hold offenders accountable.
Jane McKenna, the Associate Minister of Children’s and Women’s issues and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones were in Whitby today to make the announcement, with McKenna calling it an “important milestone” in the fight against human trafficking.
The announcement began with a traditional indigenous drumming and smudging ceremony, which was appropriate because indigenous women and children make up half of all sex trafficking victims, while comprising just four per cent of the population.
Amber Crowe, the executive director of Dnaadawenmeg Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services (one of the partners in the Durham pilot project), says indigenous people are “significantly over-represented” among the victims and are “particularly vulnerable” to human sex trafficking.
Jones did not directly answer a media question as to why Durham was chosen – along with Toronto – as one of the two sites for the CARE units, but when Durham Police Det-Sgt Dave Davis interjected and provided statistics that show Durham Region’s human trafficking caseload had almost tripled in two years, she acknowledged that those numbers may have played a part in the decision.
“Sadly, there’s a need everywhere, but we’re focusing on these pilot projects right now,” she said.
The collaborative CARE Unit approach to prevention and early intervention is part of the province’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy and is a first for Ontario.