A national hotline to help victims and survivors of human trafficking is now taking calls, with the organization behind the service saying it hoped the new resource would also fill crucial gaps in public knowledge about the issue.
The multilingual, accessible hotline, an initiative of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, launched at 7 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
The centre's chief executive officer said the line is meant to serve as a one-stop shop for everyone from victims seeking help, to tipsters wanting to flag a potential case, to members of the public wanting to learn more about the subject.
"There are still an awful lot of individuals in this country who believe that human trafficking is happening elsewhere," Barbara Gosse said in an interview. "In actual fact ... human trafficking is happening in communities right across this country. And that is a threat to every vulnerable girl, woman, man or boy."
Gosse said the toll-free hotline will be available 24 hours a day throughout the year. Call takers will be able to field queries in more than 200 languages, including a number of Indigenous languages.
The line will also be accessible to the deaf, hard-of-hearing and non-verbal, Gosse said. An accompanying website has also been designed to be accessible to the blind and visually impaired, she added.
Gosse said the line was developed with help from an international company that has helped set up similar services in other countries such as the United States. Some of those lines, she said, have been taking calls for as long as a decade.
In addition to connecting victims and survivors with community resources and enlisting law enforcement on prospective cases, Gosse said the Canadian line will help close a critical knowledge gap by collecting data on the prevalence of human trafficking.
"There is no national data collection mechanism," she said, noting most statistics on trafficking come from local police forces tallying cases that fall within their jurisdiction.
She said the hotline will allow her centre to gather information on when, where, and how often such cases come to light, which should in turn help focus efforts to eradicate the practice. Gosse noted that human trafficking, while it frequently relates to sexual exploitation of young girls, can also refer to labour trafficking as well.
The hotline was funded by the federal government, which has pledged $14.5 million over five years to get the project off the ground.
Statistics Canada, which has tracked instances of police-reported human trafficking, said the practice has been steadily on the rise since 2010. The agency also noted that the crime is widely underreported due in part to the vulnerability of the victims, distrust of authorities, or fear of prosecution for illegal acts victims were forced to perform by their traffickers.
In a 2018 study, which looked at police-reported incidents up to 2016, StatCan found that 95 per cent of human trafficking victims were women. It further found that 72 per cent were under the age of 25, and 26 per cent were younger than 18.
The same study found that two-thirds of reported incidents between 2009 and 2016 took place in Ontario.
The RCMP's human trafficking co-ordination centre has reported that between 2005 and 2018, the Mounties identified 531 cases where human trafficking charges were laid. Of those cases, 143 resulted in convictions and 316 remain before the courts.
The new hotline can be reached 24 hours a day at: 1-833-900-1010.
Deaf and non-verbal hotline users should dial 711 in any province or territory, then ask the relay service to connect them with the main hotline number.
On the web: www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press