New legislation to protect Sask. victims of human trafficking takes effect

·4 min read
According to the province, the Protection from Human Trafficking Act provides safeguards for victims and survivors of human trafficking, including streamlining the process for victims to seek a protection order. (Shutterstock  - image credit)
According to the province, the Protection from Human Trafficking Act provides safeguards for victims and survivors of human trafficking, including streamlining the process for victims to seek a protection order. (Shutterstock - image credit)

New legislation to protect Saskatchewan victims of human trafficking officially took effect on April 20.

According to the province, the Protection from Human Trafficking Act provides safeguards including streamlining the process for victims to seek a protection order.

"Human trafficking is on the rise and continues to be under-reported in most jurisdictions," Justice Minister and Attorney General Gordon Wyant said in a news release on Monday.

"This legislation is intended to improve safety for survivors, while holding traffickers accountable for this horrific crime."

The legislation also adds new provisions for protection orders, including one that prohibits traffickers from contacting their victims in any way.

The province said victims can apply for a protection order on their own or be assisted by a shelter employee or a medical professional.

Penalties to discourage violations of the protection orders are also built into the legislation, including fines, driver's licence suspensions and jail time.

"This is a complex issue that requires interventions on many levels," Wyant said. "While criminal charges will continue to be the first response to these terrible crimes, this offers community-based organizations and law enforcement another tool to assist victims of human trafficking in Saskatchewan."

Beatrice Wallace, who works at Souls Harbour Rescue Mission in Regina as the director of addictions, said it's about time the government paid attention to human trafficking.

Wallace was sexually exploited when she was 14, and put on the streets by two men.

"About 10 years ago, I found out what human trafficking was, what sexual exploitation was, and I realized that had happened to me," Wallace said.

Submitted by Beatrice Wallace
Submitted by Beatrice Wallace

Wallace said part of her "healing journey" since then has been advocating for human trafficking awareness and speaking out about her experiences in hopes of inspiring victims to come forward and preventing trafficking from happening to others.

Wallace said she is hopeful that the new legislation will have an impact, but she's skeptical.

"I think whenever something like this happens, you don't know right away if it's going to be useful until it plays out for a bit. As a survivor, it gives me hope. But we have heard of a lot of promises for quite a while. So it's just a matter of seeing it play out."

Use of protection orders

In 2019, police across Canada reported 511 human trafficking incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

Overall, both the number and rate of police-reported human trafficking incidents have been generally trending upward, and the number of human trafficking incidents reported in 2019 marked a 44 per cent increase from the previous year, according to Statistics Canada.

Wallace said she's pleased to see protection orders included in the legislation, but it will be difficult to get human trafficking victims to take advantage of the provision.

"It's a good thing if people are actually going into it. We have to remember that this is not something where you're like, 'Oh, OK, this happened to me, now I'm going to go and get a protection order,' … there's a lot more manipulation and mind-playing in it."

Wallace said she will do her part to encourage victims to apply for protection orders.

"I would love to be a part of helping a survivor. I wish I would have stood up a long time ago and I want to talk to the survivors and let them know that this is going to be soul healing for them."

Wallace said so many human trafficking survivors cross her path that she can't give a definite number.

"I work with a lot of Indigenous women and a lot of them that have been in especially into the harder drugs won't even recognize that they were trafficked."

Wallace said Saskatchewan residents would be surprised at how many people are victims of this crime.

"You live with that shame and guilt and that sense of dirtiness. You get brainwashed that it's something you're choosing. But when someone is beating the crap out of you and throwing you in the streets, I'm pretty sure that wasn't my choice."

Furthermore, Wallace said people need to understand that it's not just people visible on the streets that are at risk. Human trafficking takes place online as well, and traffickers are searching for very young people to exploit.

"People need to get educated."

Meanwhile, the new legislation also enables victims to initiate a lawsuit against their traffickers and to seek financial compensation for harm suffered, according to the province. Other measures include new provisions for law enforcement to seek search warrants for residences or vehicles to locate a victim and remove them for safety reasons.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting