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Canada The Trafficked: The story behind our investigation into the exploitation of indigenous women and girls

Survivors (clockwise from left) Alaya McIvor, Beatrice Wallace-Littlechief and Bridget Perrier: Indigenous people account for just one in every 25 Canadians, but one 2014 study estimated they are about one in every two victims of human trafficking.

May Truong/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

The Trafficked project sprang from an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In the course of that reporting, the issue of human trafficking surfaced as a factor that puts some aboriginal women at even greater risk of disappearing or being killed.

The Globe and Mail spent three months investigating the subject, dedicating one reporter full-time to delve into who the victims are, how the crime is committed, what the long-term impact is and how the federal government has responded.

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Trafficking is an under-reported crime and Canada lacks a comprehensive system of data collection. So many of the statistics were gathered piece by piece, from different law enforcement agencies and social-service providers in the country. The RCMP provided some data on the number of cases it has recorded (where human-trafficking-specific charges have been laid) and a breakdown of cases that are now before the courts, though these stats don't include ethnicity.

The Globe conducted more than 60 interviews with trafficked women, their families, police, researchers, advocates and front-line service providers, including nine indigenous survivors of trafficking. Interviews were conducted in person in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto, and by phone with sources across Canada and in the U.S. It also combed through hundreds of pages of research papers and reports, along with court, police and government documents.

Untangling how the federal government allocated spending in its National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking took many days, as no overview was provided on where the $25-million over four years was spent. An interview request to Public Safety Canada, the department co-ordinating the government's human trafficking task force, was declined. The Globe instead e-mailed and phoned eight different federal departments to provide a picture of where the money went.

The paper strove to give voice to those who have often been neglected when policy makers are making decisions – those who have directly experienced being trafficked. Their voices form the heart of the series.

The Globe did not show any source its stories in advance, in keeping with standard practice – but it did take care to ensure each survivor quoted was comfortable with, and had input into how their story was told. This is, for most, the first time they have disclosed details of their experiences.

Where possible, interviews were conducted with survivors in person, in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto. Some of the interviews were several hours long, and some follow-up interviews were also conducted to clarify details. This isn't a story that could have been rushed; some of the survivors were scared to come forward, and five of them – out of fear of reprisals, or about stigma towards them or their children – withheld their names. We took care to explain the context of the story we were writing, and that we would be guided by their preferences in terms of identity and the level of detail disclosed.

Ultimately, they chose to share their stories in the hopes their experiences will shine a light on this issue, raising awareness and preventing this from happening to others. It took great strength for them to come forward, and couldn't have been easy answering questions about painful parts of their lives. We acknowledge their courage.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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