Ontario Acts to Protect Students from Sex Trafficking

Published on July 06, 2021

$2.4 million investment mandates all boards to implement anti-trafficking plan - the first-of-its-kind in Canada


News Release

TORONTO — The Ontario government is releasing a new policy framework, the first of its kind in Canada, as part of its strategy for school boards to protect students from the heinous crime of sex-trafficking. With the goal of keeping children and youth safe from sexual exploitation, this new strategy and framework recognizes the critical role schools can play in combatting sex-trafficking. Sadly, the majority of police reported trafficking in Canada takes place in Ontario.

The announcement was made by Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General, Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, Sam Oosterhoff, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education, Daisy Wai, MPP for Richmond Hill, and Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, who were joined by Casandra Diamond, Founder and Director of BridgeNorth Women’s Mentorship & Advocacy Service.

The Ontario government’s strategy to support school boards in combatting sex-trafficking builds on the updated Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1-8, announced by Minister Lecce in 2019. That updated curriculum positioned Ontario as a leader by including mandatory learning to protect students against sex trafficking. As part of its strategy to combat human trafficking, the new policy framework requires all school boards to have a plan and anti-human trafficking protocols in place to protect students.

To support implementation of this new initiative, the Ontario government is investing $2.4 million in necessary training and resources. This will ensure school boards and school staff have the tools to recognize, identify, respond and prevent the sex trafficking of children and youth.

The Keeping Students Safe – Policy Framework for School Board Anti-Sex Trafficking Protocols sets a strong foundation for Ontario school boards to establish key partnerships and regionally tailored anti-sex trafficking protocols. School boards will collaborate with community and police organizations with the goal of having protocols in place for all provincially-funded schools in January 2022.

The new effort outlines actions school boards must take to help protect students, including:

  • Raising awareness and understanding of sex trafficking, including the urgency and complexity of combating sex trafficking.
  • Supporting procedures for students who are at risk or being sex trafficked, or who may be grooming and recruiting other students.
  • Training school board employees, educators and administrators and other school staff.
  • Establishing approaches to support accountability and evaluation.

The announcement builds on the leading efforts the Ontario government is making to protect students from human trafficking and sexual exploitation through raising awareness, including:

  • Learning related to sex trafficking in the elementary Health and Physical Education curriculum. With this mandatory learning, students develop the skills to help protect themselves against human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  • Funding the development of online educator resources and classroom resources focused on the prevention of sexual exploitation of children and youth.
  • Developing Ontario’s Human Trafficking Digital Education Tool: The Trap, and Speak Out: Stop Sex Trafficking, an Indigenous-focused awareness campaign.

Ontario’s strategy to combat trafficking is informed by the Ministry of Education’s Anti-Human Trafficking Working Group, which includes persons with lived experience of being trafficked, frontline community-based organizations that support survivors, Indigenous communities and organizations, representatives from Black and racialized communities, newcomers and students.

This school-based initiative is aligned with the Government of Ontario’s robust Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy, a comprehensive action plan to combat human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, which is co-led by the Solicitor General and the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues.


Quick Facts

  • Sex trafficking is a form of sexual exploitation and is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada.
  • The average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 13 years old.
  • Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. Ontario is a hub for human trafficking, with the most police-reported incidents of human trafficking in the country occurring within the province in 2019, accounting for approximately 55 per cent of all police-reported incidents of human trafficking nationally.
  • In 2019, over 70 per cent of human trafficking victims identified by police were under the age of 25 and 21 per cent were under the age of 18.
  • In December 2020, the legislature passed a motion urging the government to mandate that school boards, community police services and others work together to develop and adopt an Anti-Human Trafficking Protocol in each jurisdiction.
  • While some boards are providing training and supporting anti-sex trafficking work, the York Region District School Board is the only board in Ontario identified to have an anti-sex trafficking protocol currently in place.
  • White Ribbon developed a Ministry of Education-funded digital resource connected to the Ontario curriculum on the prevention of sexual exploitation for delivery in Ontario secondary schools. The resource aims to raise awareness among educators and students, so they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to recognize and prevent sexual exploitation.

Quotes

"This announcement fully demonstrates that the Ministry of Education - a key partner in the fight against human trafficking - takes student safety and well-being seriously. Having long believed that education is the only way to prevent this awful crime from victimizing children and youth, today’s announcement gives me hope for the future. "

- Casandra Diamond
Founder & Director, BridgeNorth Women’s Mentorship & Advocacy Services

"Sex trafficking is an evil crime that preys on children and our most vulnerable. While we continue to crack down on violent offenders, we are focused on the prevention of this crime – and that starts in Ontario schools. Ontario is now the first province in Canada to require an anti-sex trafficking strategy in all school boards – for every provincially funded school, in all regions of our province. Ontario schools will increasingly play a critical role in preventing, identifying and recognizing the signs of sex trafficking with a singular focus on protecting your child’s safety. "

- Stephen Lecce
Minister of Education

"Today’s announcement further underlines our government’s commitment to end human trafficking and reinforces our pledge to build awareness, protect victims, provide support for survivors and hold offenders accountable. This new framework, coupled with Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking strategy and newly passed Combating Human Trafficking Act will help prevent and respond to the threat of sex trafficking of school-aged children and youth and support our efforts to fight this heinous crime. "

- Sylvia Jones
Solicitor General

"Sadly, children and youth are targeted by traffickers seeking to sexually exploit vulnerable people. Our schools are uniquely positioned to help spot the warning signs early, so we can prevent this crime and keep our students safe. This anti-sex trafficking framework is another important step in our work to combat sex trafficking and protect children and youth across the province. "

- Jane McKenna
Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues

"Addressing this tragic crime with compassion and conviction means all government ministries have to work together to better support survivors, and help those trafficked. This protocol and funding will encourage and support more active work on this important file, assisting our partners in community and school boards to end the scourge of sex-trafficking, while supporting survivors. "

- Sam Oosterhoff
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education