NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Canada’s Ontario has become the country’s first province to offer free legal help to victims of human trafficking, part of its concerted effort to end modern-day slavery.
Victims now can call a telephone hotline or visit a team of specialized lawyers for advice, Canada’s Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement.
Such advice might include how to obtain a protective restraining order, designed to keep an alleged abuser away from the victim, it said.
Ontario created an anti-trafficking office in 2016 and has created an advisory roundtable for survivors to contribute to policy-making efforts.
Statistics Canada recorded 240 incidents of human trafficking nationwide in 2016. Experts say the actual number is likely to be much higher but is under-reported due to lack of a uniform data-collection system.
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the reported cases, according to government data.
Authorities said the Ontario initiative, newly announced last week, was the first of its kind in Canada.
Without free legal help, the cost of getting a restraining order can be as high as CAD $6,000 ($7,700 US) in fees, said Barbara Gosse, chief executive of the Canadian Center to End Human Trafficking.
“This will simplify it for victims because they will have trained lawyers who are specialized in human trafficking,” Gosse said.
At the Hamilton Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, Chairwoman Tessa McFadzean welcomed the measure to help break down “systemic” barriers for trafficking victims.
“Navigating the complexities of the legal system can be quite challenging particularly for survivors experiencing significant trauma and fear,” she said in a statement.
The pilot project could help with prosecutions of traffickers, said Natalya Timoshkina, an associate professor who specializes in human trafficking at Canada’s Lakehead University Orillia.
“When survivors agree to testify, they put themselves at risk because there is risk of retaliation from the traffickers,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Unless you provide social support, you will not secure prosecutions.”
Globally, more than 40 million people worldwide were victims of modern slavery in 2016, according to the International Labor Organization.