Ottawa is putting up tens of millions of dollars to fight human trafficking in the hope that more victims will come forward and there will be more successful prosecutions of offenders.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced Wednesday that the Liberal government will commit $57-million over five years and $10-million annually after that as part of a national strategy.
The government said the funding will support measures that include adding resources to the Canada Border Services Agency, the development of a national case management standard and the appointment of a special adviser on the issue.
It builds on other initiatives, such as a human trafficking hotline announced a year ago at a cost of $14-million over five years. It has been operating for just over three months.
The total cost for the national plan comes in at about $75-million.
Goodale said human trafficking takes the form of sexual exploitation or forced labour, most often of young women and girls in vulnerable circumstances. About 1,220 cases of human trafficking were reported to police in Canada between 2009 and 2016, the government has said.
Statistics Canada reported that Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia led the way with the highest number of police-reported human-trafficking violations during those years.
“This is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg,” Goodale told a news conference in Regina. He called human trafficking one of the most heinous crimes in society.
“Human trafficking often seems to fly under the radar. Its victims and survivors are all too often simply hidden from view.”
A final report from the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls highlighted a need for police agencies to address human trafficking, because Indigenous girls are often targeted by traffickers.
Goodale said migrant workers and new immigrants are also victimized in Canada.
He wants to see more reporting of human trafficking, he said, and believes the national strategy will do that.
“I think we’ll have more people coming forward. I think we’ll have more successful prosecutions.
“We will have those victims and survivors feeling less trapped, less hopeless and believing that the system’s on their side and wants to rescue them.”
Opposition Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, the shadow minister for public safety, said in an e-mailed statement that the Liberal government hasn’t done enough to combat human trafficking in the last 3 1/2 years.
He said tougher legislation is needed.
“A Conservative government will ensure that prosecutors have the strongest laws behind them to keep human traffickers off our streets and away from survivors and those they seek to harm.”
A federal election is set for Oct. 21.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.