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Some police see it as a useful investigative tool in finding and reaching victims and say shutting it down would only result in new sites popping up. Child advocacy and anti-trafficking groups, however, say it is facilitating criminal activity, including child trafficking, and needs to be stopped.

Actions against the company in the United States "beg the same question about what should be happening in the Canadian context," said Signy Arnason, associate executive director and director of Cybertip. And within there, there are definitely youths who are being exploited in this capacity. Liz McDougall, general counsel who speaks for Backpage, said the company "can't comment currently.

Kevin Coon, managing partner at global law firm Baker McKenzie, said the company "is the key purveyor for these ads here in Canada as well. It's very unknown but it is insidious, and that service is the major advertiser and exploiter in the industry. He said it is "running afoul" of Criminal Code provisions on the purchase of sex. Anybody can go on the website and see how prevalent it is," said Mr. Coon, who specializes in human rights and labour rights, adding that the federal government "has a key role to play" in legislative action and in enforcing existing laws and raising awareness.

Canada's national action plan on human trafficking expired last year, and Public Safety Canada did not say when a new plan would be announced. Under Canadian law, it is prohibited to advertise sexual services and to procure the sexual services of someone under the age of But whether it is due to a dearth of enforcement, other priorities among governments or a need for new legislation, the ads flourish.

Across Canada, an average of 1, new adult-services ads which include female escorts and body rubs are posted on Backpage every day, according to Uncharted Software, a Toronto-based software and data visualization firm. It pegs the number of unique ads in Toronto alone at about a day. By its count, Backpage hosts about 60 per cent of all the online adult ads in Canada, making it the largest provider in the country.

Backpage has location sites, according to this year's U. It is the world's No. The Senate report cites the National Association of Attorneys General in describing Backpage as a "hub" of human trafficking, "especially the trafficking of minors. Backpage "does not deny that its site is used for criminal activity, including the sale of children for sex," the report says. Rather, the company argues it just hosts content created by others and is thus immune from liability under the U.

But the inquiry found that Backpage systematically edited its adult ads, scrubbing them of terms such as "teenage," "little girl" and "rape" before posting them. Pressure on the company is coming from many sides. Backpage is the subject of a searing new U. The film follows the legal battle that several mothers are fighting on behalf of their teenage daughters, who were trafficked and advertised on the site. In , major credit-card companies stopped allowing their cards to be used to purchase Backpage adult ads, citing concerns about the trafficking of minors.

Bitcoin is used instead. In Canada, some police see the site as a useful tool in their investigations. If the site were shut down in Canada, "I'm sure something else would pop up within a few weeks, but then we'd be behind the eight ball trying to catch up again.

Police in Ontario say Backpage is a key place where underage girls are advertised. Those in Calgary and Edmonton, however, say those types of ads are more likely to appear on free social-media sites such as Tinder. Even if the site were more regulated or shut down, some say that would not address the root of the problem, which is the demand for these services. Nor would it change the broader issues that make children more vulnerable, such as homelessness or addiction.

When the girls listed on the site are underage, Det. Hay says, odds are they have a pimp. He estimates that of all the escort ads on Backpage in his city, at least 25 per cent of the girls and women are being trafficked. Some of these girls that we've come across haven't eaten in days, haven't slept in days, don't know what city they're in … have been beaten, abused," Det. I've been a police officer for 17 years, and this is something — I can't even wrap my head around it some days.

It's a really horrible crime. Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, regularly receives calls from family members who are searching for their missing daughters — and using Backpage to see whether they're still alive. She estimates that about 60 per cent of the people her centre speaks with are tracking their daughters through Backpage. She thinks more enforcement is needed to tackle the demand side of the crime — the johns and pimps — and that Backpage ought to be shut down.

Trafficking across Canada is a huge issue impacting women and girls in our communities," she said. In an e-mail, Public Safety Canada said the government "takes very seriously" any potential tools used to facilitate the trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Barbara Gosse, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said "people need to know that in Canada you can not buy sex from a juvenile. It is child abuse. We need to start using the right language.

There is no such thing as child prostitution — it is strictly child abuse. In February, the Toronto Police Service's sex-crimes unit announced an arrest in a human-trafficking investigation. The release offers a window into how sex trafficking works. The allegations, which have not been proved in court, are as follows: In October, , a year-old girl was recruited and procured into the sex trade by a man. She was coerced into the trade with the promise of earning a lot of money.

In Canada, an average of 1, new adult-services ads which include female escorts and body rubs were posted on Backpage every day, according to an estimate last year by Uncharted Software, a Toronto-based data visualization firm. By its count, Backpage hosted about 60 per cent of all the online adult ads in Canada, making it the largest provider in the country. Online sex ads have already migrated to other sites, which Toronto police are monitoring.

Backpage stood out for how overt the ads were, she added. And that unto itself is an enormous problem. Still, some say the crackdown will make conditions less safe for self-employed sex workers who are there of their own volition. Backpage is just a platform, Ms. We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

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