OTTAWA (CCN) — While some progress has been made combating human trafficking in Canada more needs to be done, especially in educating the public says former MP Joy Smith.
“There is human trafficking in Canada and it happens a block away from where you are sitting,” Smith told more than 150 people attending the screening of the feature-length documentary Human Trafficking: Canada’s Secret Shame produced by the Joy Smith Foundation. Smith hopes to get the documentary shown in schools and at police departments across the country.
Most human trafficking in Canada involves Canadian women and girls, and the problem disproportionately affects indigenous communities, panelists said following the presentation. In addition to luring girls at schools, shopping centres and venues where they hang out, traffickers are increasingly using social media to target and lure their victims, they said.
“It’s a growth industry and it’s not going away,” said the founder of the Ratanak International and former RCMP forensic expert Brian McConaghy, who participated in the documentary and the panel discussion. Traffickers make between $240,000 and $260,000 per victim, per year, the documentary said.
While many distinguish between trafficking and legal prostitution, McConaghy told the panel that when the entre level for prostitution is 12-13 years old, “there’s an artificial distinction” between child and adult prostitution and how voluntary participation in the sex trade really is.
McConaghy became aware of the trafficking problem in Canada working on piecing together the remains of serial killer Robert Pickton’s many victims who were lured to his pig farm from Vancouver’s Lower East Side. The Ratanak Foundation fights trafficking in Cambodia, a society traumatized by genocide, thus making it more vulnerable to traffickers, McConaghy said.
Yet First Nations communities in Canada exhibit many of the same characteristics of trauma, McConaghy said. He urged people to “step into the deep end” and “seek to support First Nations” in finding a solution to this crisis.
NPD MP Irene Mathyssen, who co-sponsored the screening with Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Conservative Senator Betty Unger, told the audience she had not been aware Canada’s homegrown trafficking problem until she participated in a 2006 study of the issue by the Status of Women Committee.
Mathyssen said she thought it was a problem elsewhere, perhaps tied to the fall of the Soviet Union. But when she went home to her London, Ont., riding and consulted with local police, she discovered trafficking was “in my neighbourhood.”
“All along the 401 corridor, young women and some young men are being trafficked and victimized,” she said.
The documentary featured testimony from two young women who described how they were groomed and lured by traffickers into sex slavery. They both described events that began with people they thought were their friends or boyfriends.
Simone Bell, a recovered trafficking victim with Voicefound, a charitable agency to help victims of sexual exploitation, told the panel discussion after the documentary traffickers are using social media such as Facebook to lure victims. They target “vulnerable” young women through their online profiles, she said, and “make them think they’re in love,” and can have “a good life.”
“Kids are being fed makeup videos,” she warned, noting they feature mascara costing $35 to $40. These videos entice the girls to think they need these expensive items to look good, and this makes them vulnerable. “What we are teaching these kids is causing them to be trafficked,” she said.
When a trafficker posing as a boyfriend tells a young girl she is beautiful and buys her expensive things, she is lured into the sex trade and trapped, the documentary showed.
“I can’t think of an investigation that hasn’t had a social media component,” said Constable Owen Carroll of the Ottawa Police’s human trafficking unit. “Monitoring your kids’ social media is crucial.”
“The system is broken,” said Ouellette, an indigenous MP who represents the Winnipeg Centre riding, one of the poorest in Canada. He told of finding young indigenous girls “crying by the roadside,” desperate to get away from their traffickers, but because of addiction issues, not finding it easy to find a place that will take them in on short notice. “The system has a lots of cracks and people fall through them.”
“Traffickers know where the shelters are,” Carroll said. “All it could take is ‘the look’ to get them back. They will re-associate themselves with all that control.”
Those wishing to get involved in combating human trafficking need to be alert to the signs, McConaghy said. They should also get in touch with the organizations that are already working in this area to volunteer their help.