How two N.S. Crown attorneys are fighting human trafficking in the province

Two special prosecutors tasked with taking on Nova Scotia's human trafficking cases are sharing some insight into what's currently happening in the province's courts.

The two Crown attorneys are the only ones in Nova Scotia who solely focus on human trafficking cases — with the second only recently hired after a funding boost from the province.

"It's very exciting to have the resources to give these very important cases due care and attention," said Alicia Kennedy, a Nova Scotia crown attorney.

Currently, the pair is handling 15 cases in Nova Scotia — the province with the highest rate of human trafficking per-capita in the country.

They say their cases often involve specific groups of people, including women and girls frequently, and more specifically, Indigenous and African Nova Scotians, who they say are overrepresented among victims.

"The majority of our open prosecutions involve single accused targeting multiple victims," said Crown Attorney Josie McKinney. "All of our files are grounded in manipulation; emotional and psychological manipulation."

"The offence itself relies on exploitation, it relies on taking advantage of vulnerabilities," said Kennedy.

An example the pair gave was of a woman forming what seemed to be a relationship with someone they know, which ends up turning into a controlling situation. They say, in some cases, victims are taken away — first to New Brunswick.

"And then from there, they move on to Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland, and that's known as 'the circuit,'" said McKinney.

Sometimes the crimes make headlines, like last November when police in Bridgewater charged two people after a New Brunswick teen called 911 saying she found herself in a Bridgewater motel without knowing how she got there. That case hasn't gone to trial yet.

"It's a very long re-traumatizing journey to get to justice," said Kendra MacKinnon, with the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking.

"It makes a huge difference that they're practicing from a trauma-informed lens and that they know the nuances that are involved in the human trafficking landscape."

"I believe that we have improved trust, public trust in the work that we're doing," said McKinney.

Both McKinney and Kennedy also teach community agencies and police about human trafficking — adding prevention to their roles as prosecutors.