A new study suggests people in Atlantic Canada have a lot to learn about the crime of human trafficking.
The study was done by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, a charity that runs a toll-free hotline that helps victims and provides information to others.
"Canadians are shockingly unaware of the realities of human trafficking or how to make a difference," said James McLean, the centre's director of research and policy.
"In our research, we found that three in four Atlantic Canadians don't feel that they can recognize the signs of human trafficking, and almost 50 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are unaware that sex trafficking victims are often lured by someone they know."
McLean said anyone can be a trafficker — including boyfriends, family members, friends and neighbours.
Since its inception in 2019, the centre has handled 415 cases across the country and helped almost 600 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom are girls and women.
Spotting the signs
McLean said the centre's 24-hour hotline can connect people to a network of social agencies across the country and — if the victim requests it — immediately connect them with police. McLean said if the victim is a child, the centre is obliged to contact police.
The centre offers advice on how to spot potential signs that someone is a victim of human trafficking, including:
Sudden changes in behaviour and appearance.
Expensive gifts or extra money that cannot be explained.
Past cases in this region have seen Maritime women and girls kidnapped and moved to Central Canada.
"Primarily this is to help to evade law enforcement," McLean said.
"It's also to keep the victim disoriented so that they're not aware of where they are, and, unfortunately, it's to raise additional money for the trafficker by moving them to different sex markets across the country."
One of the most recent cases of human trafficking in Nova Scotia involved a man and a woman who are accused of taking a teenage girl from her New Brunswick home and bringing her to the Bridgewater area on Nova Scotia's South Shore.
"It's unfortunate that that is an incredibly typical scenario," McLean said. "Typically it's someone that comes into our lives, that occupy a position of trust and slowly over time, they create a dependency on them. And they separate out the victim from their family and loved ones and isolate them."
The pair, Bruce Gilroy and Chelsey Wilson, are due in provincial court in Bridgewater early in the new year to enter pleas.
The toll free number for the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking is 1-833-900-1010.
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