Safe JusticeNavigating the way forwardBy Deputy Director Maria McDonald and Detective Inspector J.D. (Jordan) Whitesell, Ontario Provincial PoliceWorld events over the last few years have given police leaders reason to pause and consider the operational impact of a human rights-based approach to policing. Founded upon dignity, respect and equality for all, a human rights approach supports policing with empathy –a peoplefirst approach that integrates trauma-informed and victim-centred approaches into investigations. 1 Police are often the first contact, and the gatekeepers, for victims, survivors, family members and communities to access justice which is safe, trauma informed, victim centred, culturally sensitive, and free from bias. Police have legal, ethical and moral obligations when assisting victims, survivors and family members who have been impacted by crime. This is reflected in the language of legislation, whereby police should “assist” and “have an understanding of” (victim) needs, in keeping with the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, 2019. A rights-based approach is also reflected in the Ontario Victim Bill of Rights, the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls to Justice and the Ontario Major Case Management Model. However, victims cannot access those rights if they do not know about them. The responsibility in supporting access, according to a report by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (FOVC), falls in part on the police during their engagement with victims and/or survivors in the investigative process:“All criminal justice officials should be required to have basic knowledge and understanding of trauma and to provide trauma-sensitive responses to victims. Canadians deserve better from their criminal justice system. If Canadians are to have confidence in the criminal justice system, they have to know that the people working in it are properly trained on how to treat everyone fairly, and that the needs of victims are recognized and respected.” 2A PEOPLE-FIRST RESPONSE, ACKNOWLEDGING THAT TRAUMA-INFORMED AND VICTIM-CENTRED RESPONSES MUST BE INTEGRATED WITH OPERATIONS, IS ESSENTIAL TO MODERN POLICING. Bearing this in mind, this article considers the cultural shift that is taking place within the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to support the operational value of evidence-based policy development within the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, while assisting with, and understanding the rights of, victims and survivors. The OPP’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, in conjunction with the OPP Victim Specialist Pilot Program, are incorporating a trauma-informed, victim-centred approach into their investigative response.Background to the ProgramTo combat the growing problem of child sexual exploitation in Ontario, the Government of Ontario is investing $307 million from 2020 to 2025 on a new anti-human trafficking strategy. Ontario’s plan represents the largest total investment in dedicated anti-human trafficking supports and services in Canada. The proactive approach focuses on four actions across government:• raising awareness of the issue;• protection of victims and early intervention;• supporting survivors; and• holding offenders accountable. 3  One of the initiatives under the government action of holding offenders accountable is the establishment of a new intelligence-led joint forces investigations strategy team (IJFS) with officers and analysts from First Nations police services, municipal police services and the OPP Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. This 21-agency collaboration proactively conducts intelligence gathering and analysis, initiates investigations, disrupts human trafficking groups and assists in the prosecutions of multi-jurisdictional human-trafficking organizations across Ontario. In addition to the investigative and intelligence activities, the IJFS integrates the education and protection of victims with an eye to early intervention and survivor support.  IJFS staff include a civilian victim specialist who acknowledges the importance of assisting and understanding the needs of victims and survivors. This reflects a cultural shift of re-focused priorities that recognizes justice can mean different things to many people. Historically, success was measured by the number of successful prosecutions. However, safe justice (policing with empathy and a people-first approach) values and understands the importance of helping victims and survivors. Safe policing provides them with the knowledge, access to supports and tools to leave their situation, should they choose to do so.  The operational value of this integrated approach is in the improved societal outcomes versus the historic measurement of outputs and activities. Simply put, victims leaving human trafficking is a more important outcome for community safety and well-being than the number of arrests made in a year. Driving these improved societal outcomes is the victim specialist’s dedicated attention to providing victims access to support for housing, childcare, dental care, legal services, financial supports, employment, education assistance and, perhaps most importantly, helping them connect with a community-survivor, peer-support network.The Victim Specialist Pilot ProgramThe OPP Victim Specialist Pilot Program is available in six detachments across Ontario, as well as in the Anti-Human Trafficking Units in the northwest, northeast, west, and central regions. The program supports front-line members’ cases in the detachments where they are located, in addition to supporting investigations within the Criminal Investigation Branch and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. The pilot program is taking place for a period of one year.The OPP identified two international examples where police supported and assisted victims and survivors during an investigation. The examples were based in the United States (victim specialist) and the United Kingdom (family liaison officer). Jurisdictional scans identified the victim specialist as the most appropriate method to assist victims and survivors within the OPP context.  The need for this role is in keeping with police obligations under the Major Case Management Model. The model states that a victim liaison officer (VLO) “includes a civilian member(s).” The civilian victim specialist has the knowledge and skills to support the integration of victim-centred and trauma-informed approaches into an investigation.   The program builds upon existing relationships the OPP has developed with community partners and victim service providers, at regional, provincial, national and international levels, to provide victims and survivors with access to the information they need when engaging with the police. These relationships have helped provide foreign victims with access to, and information on, victim support organizations where they reside, including in the U.S., Europe and Asia.The Victim Specialist Program has three key objectives namely:1. Effective communication and information;2. The setting of clear expectations; and3. A Victim Needs Assessment.OPP Victim-Centred ApproachA Victim Needs Assessment approach gives victims and survivors the opportunity to tell the police their individual needs, should they choose to do so. This includes needs with respect to the:• Communication method and format they identify as suitable (if available);• Assistance needed to understand or to be understood;• Support from the police to help a victim/survivor feel safer; and• Individual needs, including cultural needs.  The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime Progress Report on the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights emphasizes the importance of collecting data to support victim’s rights at every stage of the criminal justice process, including the police investigation. 4 The use of a victim-needs assessment on a pilot basis, as part of the Victim Specialist Program, has identified specific needs of victims and survivors. This practical application of “target, test and track” allows for adjustment to operational decisions in the IJFS with the intended outcome of continual enhancement to key performance indicators.  A change in culture takes time and consistent effort. However, the ripples of change are being embraced by police leaders both domestically and internationally. A people-first response, acknowledging that trauma-informed and victim-centred responses must be integrated with operations, is essential to modern policing. Over the course of the past few months, the benefits of integrating a victim-centred approach have been observed within the IJFS and the Victim Specialist Pilot Program. These benefits, particularly poignant for victims and survivors, have also impacted police members through improved satisfaction and social impact.  Knowledge can change the way we think. And understanding a trauma- and victim-centred approach is a key step towards supporting safe justice for all.Detective Inspector J.D. (Jordan) Whitesell began his career in 1995 with the London Police Service and joined the Ontario Provincial Police in 2001. He is currently the Manager – Counter Exploitation and Missing Persons, and the Officerin-Charge – Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-Led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS).Maria McDonald is the Deputy Director – Victim Support Strategy Lead, Investigation & Support Bureau, for the Ontario Provincial Police.1 Alyson Kilpatrick, A Human Rights Based Approach to Policing in Ireland (ICCL, 2018) available at uploads/2018/09/Human-Rights-Based-Policing-in-Ireland.pdf; OPP Framework for a Victim-Centred Approach; 2020-2022 OPP Strategic Plan, Craig E. Ferrell JR, Policing with Empathy, IACP Police Chiefs Magazine, October 2021.
2 Progress Report: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (November 2020) available at https://
3 Retrieved from ontarios-anti-human-trafficking-strategy-2020-2025.
Progress Report: The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (November 2020) available at
5The Rise of Evidence-Based Policing: Targeting, Testing, and Tracking. Sherman, L. August 2013. Crime and Justice 42(1):377-451.

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