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Canada turns its back on victims
Description: 'If you compare what the U.S. is doing to what Canada is doing, it's shameful'
Date: 01 October 2008
Author: Tamara Cherry
Source: Toronto Sun

In the fall of 2006, the International Institute of Buffalo received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to begin a trafficking victims services program.

The money was granted on condition that the application was made in conjunction with a law enforcement entity — in this case, the New York County Sheriff's Office.

Thus became a state-wide anti-trafficking task force that brought together politicians, non-governmental organizations and police.

Initiatives like this have been popping up all over the United States.

"It just wouldn't work any other way," Amy Fleischauer, coordinator of the institute's Trafficking Victim Services says a few kilometres away from the Canadian border. "It's just so obvious, I think."

Compared to the Americans, the efforts of Canadian government and law enforcement is "shameful," human trafficking experts say.

In a four-part series running across the country this week, Sun Media looks at Canada's hidden trade in people; at the failure of this country to live up to its international obligations on human trafficking, to prosecute human traffickers and meaningfully help victims.

"The NGOs are so important in that we understand, are able to provide the basic needs that anyone would need in order to feel safe and begin to describe what's happening to them," Fleischauer says.

The institute was initially granted funds to serve 45 pre-certified victims — those not yet identified as victims by government — over a three-year period.

"In the past year and a half, we have served almost 75 pre-certified victims. So it's been almost double what the estimation was in half the time," Fleischauer says.

"In Niagara Falls, New York, we've seen quite a lot of activity, which of course leads me to believe that it's happening on the other side of the border, too."

Here's a snapshot of what is happening on the other side of the border: Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are generally identified as destination hot spots for international trafficking victims.

Police and NGOs are well versed in the circuits that appear to have been etched out for the domestic victims — Nova Scotia-Montreal-Toronto-London-Guelph-Barrie-Niagara Falls in the East; Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver in the West.

According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act by Benjamin Perrin, assistant professor in the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, 31 foreign nationals were identified by Citizenship and Immigration Canada as potential human trafficking cases over a two-year period starting in May 2006, when such cases began being flagged in federal immigration records.

Of those cases, only 12 were granted Temporary Resident Permits, while the others had their TRP applications refused, went down other immigration routes or have their cases still under review.

In the way of organization, there's the B.C. Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons on the west coast and New Brunswick Human Trafficking Task Force on the east, but little in between.

In Alberta, Edmonton-based Changing Together is leading the way with the Alberta Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which sees participation from other non-profit organizations, the RCMP and the provincial government.

This after Changing Together surveyed 57 agencies around the province last year and learned nearly half of them had experienced indirect contact with human trafficking victims and nearly 20% had direct contact with victims.

"Eventually we'd like to see it (the coalition) at the government level as an office," Changing Together assistant executive director Sherilyn Trompetter says. "This is a bigger issue than just one NGO can handle."

Alberta has recently committed "a very small amount of money into developing a protocol," Perrin says.

The Manitoba government has been vocal in urging the federal government to come up with an international strategy and five months ago, the provincial government introduced the New Worker Recruitment and Protection Act intended to "substantially strengthen the protection of foreign workers from unscrupulous recruiters."

But police in Winnipeg, where MP Joy Smith says two girls domestically trafficked into the sex trade were recently rescued, refuse to comment on a human trafficking policy that was reportedly meant to be drafted last year.

In Quebec, an 11-year-old girl from West Africa arrived on a plane at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport late this summer where she was identified by a Canada Border Services Agency official as a potential trafficking victim, only to be put into the Laval Immigration Detention Centre for at least three weeks.

According to NGOs familiar with the case, she was put in this minimum security prison because of immigration regulations and a lack of suitable alternatives.

The girl was eventually released into the custody of a group of women, Catherine Gauvreau, program manager with International Bureau for Children's Rights, says in Montreal. The woman who brought her to Canada is still under investigation.

The CBSA refused to comment.

Montreal police denied a request to interview an officer who has knowledge of the human trafficking situation there. As for what lays between Manitoba and Quebec: "Ontario is a big gap," says Perrin.

Outside Toronto, the Peel Regional Police vice unit is leading the country in human trafficking charges with a handful of a cases before the courts.

Inside Toronto, the first ever case under the 2005 Criminal Code human trafficking legislation has fallen apart.

The investigation was launched in January after a young Eastern European woman walked into a downtown Toronto police station saying she had arrived in Canada on the promise of a modelling career only to be forced into the sex trade.

Within a week, six people were charged with human trafficking. Police heralded the arrests as a crack in an international human trafficking ring.

Five months later, all charges were withdrawn at the request of the Crown Attorney's office.

"It appeared ... that the information the police had initially been provided was not, perhaps, as straightforward as originally believed," Crown attorney Andrew Locke told a North York courtroom June 10.

"Witnesses became problematic," says Toronto Police Det.-Sgt. Mike Ervick.

"The original version was not what it ended up to be."

"They were all being exploited," Ervick says of the three victims ultimately identified. "But they're not going to testify because they're afraid."

At least one of those women was denied a TRP, says Loly Rico, president of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

Within the last six months, Ervick's downtown vice squad has identified at least two cross-border North American trafficking victims, he says. Those investigations are ongoing.

In a case out of the Sex Crimes Unit, a 19-year-old Edmonton woman was lured to Toronto earlier this year under false pretences before she was forced into the sex trade. The human trafficking charges against the three suspects were dropped as part of a plea bargain, says Det.-Const. Eduardo Dizon.

International victims have been found by the Sex Crimes Unit, but passed to the RCMP, which is considered "in a better position" to support victims and get information from international agencies, says Det.-Sgt. Kim Scanlan.

"It's still viewed as this international crime, even though it's actually a local crime which has transnational elements to it," Perrin says. "That's concerning."

"It will take combined efforts and multiple groups, including NGOs and other areas to really, fully support a victim who has been found stuck in this circumstance," Scanlan says.

"This has to be a larger scale operation," says Dizon. "It has to be something jointly coordinated provincially — at the very least provincially."

With no leadership coming from the government, workers at the Florence Booth House, a downtown Toronto Salvation Army hostel, have taken helping the exploited into their own hands.

"We're caring for the lost and forgotten of our society," says director Brenda Wootten.

Wootten's shelter has created a unique policy that allows sex workers to set their own curfew with hopes they will feel comfortable enough to come forward if they are being exploited. Ultimately, Wootten hopes for a safe house for human trafficking victims, but that will have to come from the government.

"The government has to buy into the fact that this type of program is needed," she says.

"Wait until all the refugees come in together and there's guys standing across the street and you never see them again," hostel manager Sinead Harraher says. "They have no papers. They always come in groups. They stay a while and then they're gone."

"It comes to a point where you're not helping someone if you're not talking about what's going on," Harraher says.

Robin Pike, executive director of the B.C. Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, says at a 2007 human trafficking meeting hosted by the Maytree Foundation in Toronto, "Most of the people that came in were from the (Attorney General's) ministry in Ontario, but they felt they knew nothing about the issue in their own province at that point.

"They had no idea where to start, who might know, how big the issue was," says Pike, whose office came under the umbrella of British Columbia's Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General after a two-year initiative with the RCMP to look at trafficking in B.C. "And I don't have any sense of where Ontario or those government employees have gone with the issue since then."

"I've had people from the Ontario government come to my presentations and talks given in Toronto and they tell me they don't have cards; they tell me they're going to e-mail, they don't," Perrin says. "It's just totally a black hole right now."

In response to a request for an interview with Ontario attorney general Chris Bentley about calls for a province-led initiative, spokesman Brendan Crawley said in a statement e-mailed to the Sun: "We support the hard work of our police to combat human trafficking, we have successfully prosecuted human trafficking cases as recently as earlier this summer ... and we would be delighted to continue to work with our federal counterparts on additional ways to address this issue."

Crawley also pointed out that human trafficking was part of the agenda during a federal/provincial/territorial Justice Ministers meeting last November that included nearly 20 other items.

"We don't even have a mandate as a province," says Rico. "If we see (victims) provincially, we need involvement of the province and even the federal government to support them."

"They want us to help them," Rico says. "And there is nothing. There is not a talk."

"The federal government doesn't deliver direct services ... so when it comes to health care, child protection, funding of transition houses, all of that is provincial responsibility," Pike says. "I certainly think there's a need for the East to look closely."

The last activity recorded on the website for the federal Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons was March 31, 2004, when the government met with NGOs and academics "to discuss various elements of a potential federal anti-trafficking strategy."

Nearly three years later, in February 2007, a motion calling on the government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat human trafficking was passed by a vote in the House of Commons.

There is still no strategy.

"Everybody's talking about it and everybody's having conferences and everybody knows the problem's there, but let's get going," says John Fenn of Streetlights Support Services in Toronto. "Let's start. Even if we make a muck of the thing if we get started, let's get started."

"Don't talk too much. Don't tell me what you are doing. Just do it," says a frustrated Benjamín Santamaria of Project Desert Roses, a Toronto-based NGO.

"Why? Because it's your responsibility and I am paying my taxes for you to do that work."

"If you compare what the U.S. government is doing to what the Canadian government is doing, it's shameful," says Trompetter. "It's absolutely shameful what's happening."

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