Officials in North Bay launch initiative to combat human trafficking
The Drug Strategy Committee of North Bay & Area is collaborating with local police and other agencies to try to save victims of human trafficking.
The initiative was started in honour of North Bay's Leah St Jean, a human trafficking victim who was murdered.
Her father, Lloyd, and stepmother Karen Schrek miss their daughter dearly. They said Leah found herself caught up in a very dark world.
“She would go and help everyone that she could,” said Schrek.
“But she was led down the wrong path,” Lloyd St Jean added.
Leah was shot and killed in a Toronto apartment at the age of 32 in January 2021. She met the man charged with her murder in North Bay.
The 26-year-old suspect faces second-degree murder charges, with a trial scheduled in January 2023.
“Our daughters, our mothers and aunts are not for sale and they will not be sold,” said North Bay Police Sgt. Brad Reaume.
Police said human trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing crimes. It often involves sexual exploitation and forced labour.
North Bay police, Anishinabek police and the OPP are working with the drug strategy committee and other agencies to put doorknob hangers, stickers and pamphlets in hotel rooms in the city and in West Nipissing.
The cards have information on them to help victims escape and how to alert authorities.
Reaume said the goal is “to create eyes and ears from hotel workers and employees and guests of hotels so they are able to recognize, identify or suspect activity.”
Hotels, motels and vacation rentals have become a common site for human trafficking, police said. Victims can easily go unnoticed and blend in with guests.
“We have to meet with the hotel management staff because they have already said they are interested,” said Pat Cliché, coordinator of the community drug strategy.
North Bay Const. Darcy Wall investigates the cases locally and said police have had success in freeing human trafficking victims.
“Since 2019 up until the end of last year, I had three successful calls where we were able to get people away from their traffickers and they’re doing great now,” said Wall.
In one instance, an investigation led by Wall ended with the accused serving four and half years in prison.
Schrek and St Jean are thankful the police and local agencies are raising awareness of human trafficking. They hope it will help save lives.
“It’s about time something was done to approach this subject,” said Schrek.
Police statistics show 91 per cent of victims trafficked know their traffickers and more than 95 per cent of victims are women and girls. From 2010-2020, there were about 2,300 victims of human trafficking in Canada in almost 3,000 incidents.