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The Ontario government says school boards will collaborate with community and police organizations, with the aim of having protocols in place for all provincially funded schools by January, 2022.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government said it will allocate $2.4-million for school boards to educate students about sex trafficking, and it is requiring school boards to put anti-trafficking procedures in place.

The funding will support training and resources, and will ensure school boards and staff have the tools to recognize, respond to and prevent sex trafficking of children and youth.

The government says school boards will collaborate with community and police organizations, with the aim of having protocols in place for all provincially funded schools by January, 2022. It says school boards must take steps to protect students by raising awareness and understanding of sex trafficking, and supporting procedures for students who are at risk of being trafficked or who may be grooming or recruiting other students, among other measures.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that while the province continues to crack down on offenders, it is focused on prevention “and that starts in Ontario schools.”

“Ontario is now the first province in Canada to require an anti-sex-trafficking strategy in all school boards – for every provincially funded school, in all regions of our province. Ontario schools will increasingly play a critical role in preventing, identifying and recognizing the signs of sex trafficking with a singular focus on protecting your child’s safety,” Mr. Lecce said.

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The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year that not a single province in Canada mandates teaching students about sex trafficking, even though perpetrators target schools. Ontario, however, is the only province that includes the words “sex trafficking” in its curriculums. It first appeared in the Grades 1-8 health and physical-education curriculum in a 2019 update. It has been part of the Grades 9-12 social sciences and humanities curriculum since 2013.

But while Ontario is the only province that names the crime, it still doesn’t ensure that students learn about sex trafficking in school. The curriculum for health and physical-education classes includes exercises that deal with sex trafficking in Grades 7 and 8 – but teachers can opt not to use them. It is, however, mandatory for students to learn about the dangers of digital technology and the effects of violent behaviour.

Ontario has given funding in the past to an organization called White Ribbon, to develop resources and lesson plans to help teachers educate their students about sex trafficking. Although the resource is available, it’s not mandatory for teachers to use it.

While the government’s new funding will help bolster schools’ curriculums, organizations that work with survivors and victims of sex trafficking and on education say they want to be consulted on the boards’ efforts to create and implement anti-trafficking strategies.

Marissa Kokkoros, executive director of Aura Freedom International, a women’s organization that works to end gender-based violence and human trafficking, said most cases of youth sexual exploitation look like romantic relationships or friendships in the beginning, so it’s important to include information on healthy relationships and consent.

“Community organizations know sex trafficking inside out, and involving us at all levels will ensure that Ontario is actually preventing sex trafficking, not simply talking about it,” she said in an e-mail.

“We need an intersectional approach that recognizes who is trafficked most in Ontario – girls, Indigenous and racialized youth, newcomers, youth in care, LGBTQ2S+ youth … any framework that does not center on them will ultimately fail,” she said.

Cheryl Perera, the founder and president of OneChild Network, an organization that runs a youth-led prevention and education program on child sex trafficking in Ontario schools, welcomed the announcement to build on curriculums. She urged the government “to not only collaborate with community and police organizations but to also partner with key advocates such as OneChild who can provide a child and youth voice on the issue.”

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