Human Trafficking: Strengthening Local Approaches to a Growing Global Problem
RDR-Peel at the Sheridan College conference

Ontario has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in Canada. This may come as a shock to those of us who prefer to imagine that the evil of trafficking only flourishes elsewhere, far away in the Global South, or in major metropolitan cities. Or that trafficking only occurs in seedy side streets or dodgy neighbourhoods.

At the ‘Diverse perspectives on human trafficking’ conference at Sheridan College this week, Regional Diversity Roundtable Executive Director, Varsha Naik, and Saira Zuberi, Program Lead, presented a thought-provoking and hard-hitting look into the very real dangers of trafficking in our own backyard.

The definition of human trafficking is neither static nor simple. It is constantly evolving as policy-makers, community, academics, law enforcement sectors and advocates seek to accurately reflect the realities of this complex issue. For instance, a growing proportion of traffickers work online, not in back alleys or shady bars. Criminals not only traffic victims into forced sex work, but also other forms of forced and bonded labour, child labour, and domestic servitude. These categories are in no way mutually exclusive, however, and multiple means can be used to recruit, entrap and exploit people.

There is no single prescriptive way to fully comprehend the topic of human trafficking due to its sheer complexity. Viewing it through multiple lenses can allow us to understand better the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of how such a crime can occur and continue to flourish. Intersectional analyses offered by RDR-Peel at the conference shed light on the less well researched and understood aspects of the issue, as human trafficking thrives in the shadows.

In the Peel and Halton regions, there are large racialized communities from many parts of the world. The practice of forced marriage, which can be used as a means to traffic victims, certainly demands our attention. Cultural practices are misused and twisted for personal gain that is an aspect yet to be thoroughly explored. As well, the growing number of international students choosing Canada — and most especially Ontario and the GTA — have their own unique vulnerabilities, which are deepened by social isolation, fraudulent educational institutions and temporary visa status.

What is most critical at this point is that the civic sector and government examine the issue of human trafficking through an intersectional lens, cognizant of factors like immigration status, identity, ethnicity, race, class, gender and orientation. Being inclusive and aware of the incredible diversity of our region is critical to recognizing and addressing the growing scourge of human trafficking.

Moushumi Chakrabarty, RDR Peel.