A GO train makes a run along tracks during an early morning commute.

One person can change a life: Metrolinx commits to the Ontario anti-human trafficking strategy

To mark National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22, Metrolinx is offering new training to help employees disrupt human trafficking on its networks and asks everyone to learn the signs.

Human trafficking is a global issue and Canada is not immune to its effects.

Organized criminal networks and individuals operate throughout the country and here in Ontario. Traffickers prey on traditionally marginalized communities, including Indigenous women and people who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ to coerce them into forced labour and sexual exploitation. Young women and girls are particularly at risk, though it is a crime that also affects boys and men.

person s hands
Photo by João Jesus on Pexels.com

If there is an immediate danger or if you suspect someone is being trafficked, call 911 or your local police. If you or someone you know needs support or you want to report a potential case, call the Canadian human trafficking hotline at 1-833-900-1010. It’s confidential, toll-free and open 24/7.

As a hidden crime, most cases of human trafficking go undocumented, but studies show that traffickers use public transit as part of their operations. To help disrupt traffickers’ use of the networks, Metrolinx is supporting Ontario’s anti-human trafficking strategy. The transit agency is raising awareness and focusing on early intervention; knowing one interaction with a Revenue Protection Officer, Special Constable, or an informed rider can change someone’s life.

That’s why when a Metrolinx Revenue Protection Officer recently met a young woman exhibiting some common red flags associated with human trafficking, he took action. He noticed she was travelling alone on a train with no fare payment, and with no money or identification. She told him she was travelling to Niagara Falls to meet a man she met on the internet but had no plans once she arrived there. Concerned for her safety, the Revenue Protection Officer encouraged her to pause her trip. He helped the woman get off the train and took her to meet a Metrolinx Special Constable. The Special Constable helped the young woman contact her mother and arranged for a taxi to bring her to a safe location.

While we may never know if this young woman was in the recruitment phase of human trafficking, her story has many of the common warning signs. Knowing the warning signs of human trafficking is one of the best ways to combat it.

Two officers walk along a platform.
Transit officers patrol a platform, in this file image. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Warning signs

The indicators of human trafficking are subtle, but they exist. One person reporting suspicious behaviour can disrupt a potential case of human trafficking. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

Control

  • Passengers who are not allowed to speak for themselves
  • Passengers with no freedom of movement, such as inability to use restroom freely, or interact with other passengers
  • Passengers whose money, tickets or identification documents are being controlled by another person
  • Passengers who show signs of physical abuse, such as injuries or bruises
  • Passengers dressed in clothing not appropriate for the weather

Vulnerability

  • Minors traveling without supervision
  • Minors who do not know the person who is picking them up at their destination
  • Passengers with little to no knowledge of destination or who have never met the person who purchased their ticket for them
  • Passengers who seem confused, submissive, paranoid, fatigued, panicked, or afraid
  • Passengers acting in fearful, anxious, submissive, or nervous manner

Recruitment

  • Cars that are frequently at terminals or stations, but no one gets out to board a train or bus
  • People at terminals or stations who regularly approach people who look vulnerable, especially if they do not board a train or a bus

As a part of our prevention strategy, Metrolinx is rolling out human trafficking awareness training for all employees. Knowing how to spot the common warning signs can help identify when a vulnerable person might need help.

Metrolinx will continue to look for new ways to disrupt human traffickers across the transit network. The transit agency will also find new solutions to help survivors who use GO or UP services to escape human trafficking.

To mark National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Metrolinx is asking everyone to take the time to learn the signs of human trafficking; you never know when you may change someone’s life.

To report any suspicious activity to Metrolinx Customer Protective Services, call 1-877-297-0642. Callers always remain anonymous.

More information on what you can do to end human trafficking can be found by visiting the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. Anti-human trafficking services and supports are also available from the Government of Ontario.

Story by Heather Glicksman, Metrolinx Communications Planning senior advisor