In a unanimous 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down appeals from four men who were charged in a child sex trafficking investigation.
The move is being lauded by police and advocates, who say the decision should help police services across the nation tackle the crimes.
Darla Griswold was lured into human trafficking in the mid-’90s, just days after her 18th birthday.
“I was put through what they called the circuit of human trafficking all through the United States. Then, I was smuggled into Canada,” Griswold said.
While Griswold managed to escape, many victims, especially children, aren’t as fortunate.
According to Statistics Canada, 96 per cent of human trafficking victims are women or girls. A quarter of them are under 18, and the vast majority of these crimes (65 per cent) are happening in Ontario.
In 2017, York Regional Police officers carried out Project Raphael, a groundbreaking investigation that led to the arrests of over 100 men attempting to purchase prostituted children as young as 14 online. Undercover investigators were able to catch the perpetrators by posing as underage girls who then agreed to meet with the suspects.
Four of the men appealed the charges, claiming they were entrapped by police. It went all the way up to Canada’s highest court, which voted to dismiss the appeals last week. YRP superintendent Thai Truong, who worked on the investigation, says the move is monumental.
“The courts have recognized that fighting crime and law enforcement’s ability to investigate crime must evolve with the digital age.”
Truong adds, “It gives us the framework on how we structure our investigations and it actually keeps us mindful on what we have too keep in mind. We have to be precise.”
Chief Jim MacSween shares a similar attitude towards the ruling.
“I think it’s a huge win, not just for York Regional Police. This is a huge win for policing, for law enforcement across the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Carly Kalish with Victim Services Toronto says while the move is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.
“There are many other tools. This isn’t something that can be stopped with just police or a law enforcement intervention,” she said.
“You have to address the root causes of sex trafficking, specifically for minors. Address patriarchy, poverty, human rights issues.”
As for surviving victims like Griswold, she’s hoping this will clear the way for police to catch more criminals.
“It’s like taking away that fog that you can kind of sit behind when you’re behind a computer.”