A campaign launched by Halifax police earlier this year encouraging employees in the hospitality industry to spot signs of human trafficking and forced sex work has yielded not only calls, but also charges.
In February, Halifax Regional Police and RCMP produced a series of pamphlets and posters highlighting the signs of human trafficking. The material was distributed to employees of local hotels, taxi and bus companies, as well as the airport.
“We’ve had 12 calls to our vice members and from that, we’ve investigated some of the calls, which linked us back to the hotels,” said Staff Sgt. Darrell Gaudet of the HRP’s Special Enforcement Section.
“The hotels were very cooperative because they understood the importance of cooperation in an attempt to help the victims. And through that, we were able to lay the charges.”
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In total, police have laid three human trafficking charges since the campaign began. The youngest victim in those cases was just 14 years old.
Gaudet says police are working with the Public Prosecution Service to move ahead on those charges and are hoping for convictions, but they also measure their success in other ways.
“Of course, our main goal is to help the victims. As police officers, we like to be able to lay the charges and follow that through court but our main goal is to help the victims, to get them off the street to stop being victimized,”Gaudet said.
Denise One Breath Mitchell, a victim support navigator with the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre, was part of a panel of stakeholders who worked with police to shape the campaign.
She’s encouraged to see the program is successful and praises it for creating much-needed awareness.
“It’s giving that information and knowledge to people to really take notice when something is not right and when you feel in your gut that something is not right about this situation, to report it,” she said.
Gaudet says the rapport with hotel staff and the hospitality industry has been invaluable.
“They get that feeling and a lot of times that feeling is correct,” he said.
“They’re saying, ‘this doesn’t look right, this young girl with this adult male, she looks a little withdrawn, she seems a little scared,’” Gaudet said.
“You pick that up, that’s body language and that comes from their experiences at the desk and that’s valuable. That’s valuable to us and it helps us with our investigation.”