File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Jennifer Holleman compares two photos of her late daughter Maddison Fraser after Holleman spoke of her daughter’s coercion into the sex trade at the first stop of a cross-country parliamentary committee meeting on human trafficking in Halifax.

More than one in four human trafficking victims in Canada is under 18

OTTAWA — A new Statistics Canada report suggests the majority of human trafficking victims in Canada are women and girls younger than 25, while most of the people charged with the crimes are men between 18 and 34.

The report on police-reported human trafficking says there were 340 reported incidents of human trafficking in 2016, up from 50 in 2009, the first year these statistics started being kept.

It describes a rate of one incident of human trafficking for nearly every 100,000 people, the highest incidence rate ever in Canada. The report also suggests the true rate is likely far higher, given the high level of victim vulnerability and the fact such crimes often go unreported.

Between 2009 and 2016, 865 victims of human trafficking became known to police, 95 per cent of them female and 72 per cent under the age of 25.

The report says children under the age of 18 accounted for more than a quarter of the victims, while one-third were trafficked over international borders.

Two-thirds of the accused in the police-reported cases were male, and 80 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 34, the report says.

Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, one of the co-chairs of a new all-party parliamentary group to end human trafficking, said the report confirms the global trends showing human trafficking is getting worse, and that the victims are most often female.

“In Canada we are seeing as the awareness grows we definitely see more reporting of it but that doesn’t mean it’s not also following the global trend and increasing,” Viersen said.

A parliamentary committee recently concluded a study of human trafficking — a problem the federal government is determined to address, said Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

“This terrible crime exploits human vulnerability created by poverty, racism, conflict and lack of social support networks,” Bardsley said.

Viersen said a national action plan is urgently needed. Canada launched a national action plan in 2012, but it expired in 2016. The government spent two years evaluating that plan, reported on that evaluation late last year and is in the process of developing a new one, Bardsley said.

In this year’s federal budget, Ottawa announced about $2.9 million a year to establish a national human trafficking hotline to report cases to police, connect victims with help and collect data on the problem.

Another $86 million was set aside for Canada’s strategy against gender-based violence, Bardsley said.

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking around the world was published June 29, and praised Canada’s ongoing efforts to combat the problem. It did, however, lament the lack of a national strategy, and the fact the number of convictions in Canada has been steadily declining for three years, even as the number of reported incidents went up.

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