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A physically distanced classroom at Kensington Community School amidst the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 1, 2020.Carlos Osorio/The Canadian Press

Most Canadians support introducing mandatory curriculums that would ensure teachers educate their students about sex trafficking in schools, a new Nanos Research survey shows.

The Globe and Mail reported in February that no province or territory mandates teaching about sex trafficking, even though perpetrators often target students in schools. Organizations that work with victims and survivors say students should learn the signs and know how to get help.

Forty-nine per cent of Canadians surveyed by Nanos Research said they support mandatory education in schools on the topic of sex trafficking, and 36 per cent said they somewhat support it. Seven per cent said they somewhat oppose the idea, and 5 per cent said they oppose it. Four per cent said they are unsure.

The survey, which was commissioned by The Globe, also found that most Canadians support mandatory education on the topic for younger students – in grades 7 and 8. Forty-seven per cent of respondents said they support it for children in those grades, while 35 per cent somewhat support it. Eight per cent said they somewhat oppose the idea, and 6 per cent said they oppose it. Three per cent said they are unsure.

The Globe previously surveyed all provinces and territories to better understand what students learn about the issue in school. Most said their curriculums do not specifically name “sex trafficking” as an issue to be addressed, and no province guarantees through legislation that the topic is covered. However, for the most part, they do ensure that students learn the difference between healthy relationships and exploitation.

Ontario goes a step further because it includes the words “sex trafficking” in its curriculums, with the phrase first appearing in the grades 1-8 health and physical-education curriculum in a 2019 update. It had been part of the grades 9-12 social sciences and humanities curriculum since 2013.

However, apart from naming the crime, it does not ensure that students learn about it in school. Ontario’s curriculum includes exercises in grades 7 and 8 that deal with sex trafficking, but teachers are not obligated to use them.

Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said she is not surprised to hear Canadians support mandatory education on the topic. She said her organization has consistently advocated for it for students in grades 1 through 12.

“The Ford government has made a significant commitment to address sexual exploitation through increased funding, core funding, public awareness and legislation. The area missing is a mandatory curriculum starting in the early years,” she said.

Ontario has also provided funding to an organization called White Ribbon to develop resources and lesson plans on the topic. But students are still not required to use those resources.

In Nova Scotia, Progressive Conservative MLA Karla MacFarlane introduced a private member’s bill in 2019 that proposed making lessons about sex trafficking mandatory for students in grades 7 to 9. The bill died when the legislature was prorogued last year, but she reintroduced it Tuesday.

“We need something that is mandatory and that we know for sure that every child in the province of Nova Scotia is receiving the same information,” she said previously in an interview.

The Nanos Research survey also found that 88 per cent of Canadians were aware that sex trafficking is happening in Canada. Eight per cent said they were not aware, and four per cent said they were unsure.

It found that awareness is higher among residents of Atlantic Canada, with 93 per cent saying they were aware of the crime, and lower among residents of Quebec, where 79 per cent said they were aware of it.

Nanos Research randomly surveyed 1,007 Canadians 18 or older, and participants were recruited by live agents via phone – both landline and cell – and in a survey administered online. The margin of error for the survey is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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