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N.S. university student charged with human trafficking in Ontario

The 20 year-old Brampton man was attending university in Antigonish this fall

5 min read
Sign for St. Franics Xavier University is pictured, with Xavier Hall in the background
caption St. FX University is still dealing with fallout from the handling of an alleged sexual assault case from 2018.
Rose Murphy

A first-year student at St. Francis Xavier University is facing human trafficking charges in Ontario, and police believe there may be more victims.

Justin Earl Barrett was arrested in Newmarket, Ont., on Dec. 13, according to York Regional Police. He is facing eight charges, including human trafficking, luring, procuring, and sexually exploiting an underage girl for profit, and possession and distribution of child pornography.

Police image of Justin Barrett
caption Justin Barrett of Brampton, Ont., was charged in December as part of a York Regional Police human trafficking investigation.

The Newmarket Courthouse confirmed Barrett has been granted bail and is scheduled to appear in court next on Jan. 18.

The charges relate to a girl who was 16 at the time of the alleged offences between Sep. 30 and Dec. 14, 2019, according to court documents. Her identity is protected by a publication ban.

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York police said they suspect there are more victims and noted that Barrett has connections to West Virginia and Nova Scotia.

Barrett at St. FX

In an email sent to students and staff on Dec. 29, Vice President of Students Elizabeth Yeo said that the university had just learned “a first-year St. FX student has been charged by York Regional Police in Ontario in connection with a human trafficking investigation.”

The university had not been contacted by authorities, she said, and was “not aware of any allegations of criminal activity within our community related to this individual at this time.”

Yeo said they were attempting to get more information from the York Regional Police and that the situation will be monitored for any “elevated risk to the St. FX and/or broader Antigonish Community.”

When asked directly whether this student was Justin Barrett, and what the status of his enrolment was for the winter semester, the university did not provide a response.

Barrett appeared on the St. FX X-Men’s soccer team roster as a goalkeeper in November 2020, although he has since been removed from the online listing.

He was the team’s fourth goalkeeper but was dropped after the last practice in November, said a source familiar with the matter who isn’t authorized to speak to media.

Human trafficking in N.S.

Sgt. Andrew Joyce, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia RCMP, confirmed in an email that they had received word from York Regional Police about this case.

However, without charges being laid in Nova Scotia, he could not “confirm or deny an investigation being opened on a named individual.”

Nova Scotia has the highest rate of human trafficking incidents in the country at approximately 2.1 in 100,000 people, according to a government news release, and these crimes disproportionately affect women and girls.

Wyanne Sandler is the executive director of Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre.

She said in an email that although the case is in Ontario, human trafficking happens in Nova Scotia.

“I think we also need to look at what kinds of situations that make youth particularly vulnerable to this kind of exploitation and work to address some of those structural issues,” Sandler said.

Wyanne Sandler, Executive Director of Antigonish Women's Resource Centre is pictured.
caption Wyanne Sandler is the executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre.
Courtesy Wyanne Sandler

Those situations, Sandler said, can include poverty, a lack of affordable and supportive housing, systemic racism, a lack of supportive treatment options for people struggling with mental
health and addictions, and more.

In December, the federal government announced $22.4 million in new funding to help 63 organizations in Canada combat human trafficking across the country. However, in a recent CBC article, advocates in Nova Scotia say that funding services alone is not enough and that policy and legislative changes are also required.

N.S. woman met Barrett on Tinder

Alicia Clyke of Guysborough, N.S., said she met Barrett on Tinder a few months ago and they started chatting on social media.

He told her he was studying business and playing soccer at St. FX, she said in a message to The Signal.

Although Barrett repeatedly asked her to come over to his house, Clyke said she put him off because she never meets anyone for the first time while alone. But when she was heading to Antigonish for a party with some friends in early December, she messaged him to meet up.

Clyke says Barrett again tried to get her to go to his place first, but she told him she’d see him at the party. Once they met in person, Clyke said she got “weird vibes” from him. She did not leave the party with him, Clyke said, even though he attempted to convince her.

“Just thank God I wasn’t alone,” Clyke said.

Response from St. FX students

Marin McBeath, a senior student at St. FX, said her first reaction to the email from the university was one of shock.

But shortly after, she said, she felt “almost guilty” for not being more aware of how widespread human trafficking is.

“I think within my community it’s very invisible,” McBeath said, “and not very talked about.”

She said she feels there is a need for better education on campus and in the community about human trafficking — like how to recognize the signs and what to do if you think you see them.

Tara Reddick is pictured.
caption Tara Reddick is a senior student at St. FX in Antigonish.
Rose Murphy

Tara Reddick, also a senior at St. FX, said in a message that she was “disappointed but not shocked” by the news.

Reddick said this goes to show that the exploitation of women happens everywhere.

While some may see these charges as bringing shame to the university, Reddick said she sees this as a bigger opportunity for the university to bring awareness to the issue and become more involved in “combating the disgusting reality of human trafficking.”

‘Advocate for them’

Sgt. Joyce said RCMP want to make sure that the community is aware of the resources that are in place to assist anyone involved in human trafficking.

He also has a message for parents, guardians and friends of possible victims: trust your instincts.

“If someone you care about is telling you things that don’t match what you are seeing, or if it just doesn’t make sense, that person may be a victim of human trafficking,” Joyce said in an email.

“It can happen to anyone and the ‘game’ is difficult for victims to escape. They need you to advocate for them.”

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About the author

Rose Murphy

Rose Murphy is a multimedia journalist in Nova Scotia. She is interested in stories about unusual characters, small business, resilient communities,...

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