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Recent arrests highlight Ottawa as a 'hotspot' for human trafficking

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The arrest of four people in their 20s on charges of human trafficking this week are calling attention to a problem that experts say is all too common in Ottawa.

Research by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking shows the city is a hotspot for human trafficking.

"Traffickers are systematically and routinely moving their victims from city to city, going from Montreal and then across the 401 through Ottawa and then down through southern Ontario to access various commercial markets," said Julie Drydyk, the executive director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking.

The centre runs a hotline where victims can anonymously come forward and report cases. It has identified more than 1,500 human trafficking cases since its launch in 2019 and about 67 per cent are in Ontario.

"Traffickers lure and groom their victims through emotional and psychological control but also threats," Drydyk said.

It was a call to the centre's hotline in 2022 that led to a year-long investigation.

As a result, 23 charges have been laid against four Ottawa residents and a young girl is now safe.

"The initial information we received was that a female minor was being trafficked for a sexual purpose across portions of Ontario and Quebec," said Acting Detective Chris Barkey with the Ontario Provincial Police.

The exploitation allegedly started in 2019. The accused knew the victim, police said.

Police say recruitment can happen in many different ways, including online.

"Certainly the more traditional ways. Somebody being approached in a mall, somebody promising you the world, taking you out of a situation and taking you to see places you've never seen before," Barkey said.

"As well, we're starting to see the trend now where the potential traffickers are reaching out online to make contact."

Some warning signs of human trafficking may include someone being controlled by others, withdrawing from their social networks, scripted answers as well as having expensive clothes and gifts.

"Even if you don't think it's happening in your community it very likely is," Barkey said.

"Whether it's recruiting or whether it's actual victims being trafficked in those communities, it's very prevalent and damaging in nature."

If you need help or believe someone you know is being trafficked, there are resources available including the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline which is available 24/7 at 1-833-900-1010. There is also an online chat option.

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