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Canada can't see human trafficking
Description: Two years ago, the B.C. solicitor general set up a special office to combat human trafficking, leading the way for Canadian provinces. Since that time, however, there hasn't been a single victim rescued or a solitary charge laid by that body.
Date: 30 October 2008
Source: The Edmonton Journal

What's wrong with this picture?

Two years ago, the B.C. solicitor general set up a special office to combat human trafficking, leading the way for Canadian provinces. Since that time, however, there hasn't been a single victim rescued or a solitary charge laid by that body. Across Canada, 31 foreign trafficking victims -- four of them minors -- have been identified by immigration officials from May 2006 to May 2008.

Clearly, given the size of the international problem, Canadian figures released so far are but a tiny percentage of what's really going on. For its part, the RCMP has previously guessed that some 800 foreign trafficking victims are moved here annually. As well, they have estimated we are a transit country for up to 2,200 victims being sent elsewhere. The force is currently working to update its findings.

At least we have an outspoken expert in the field and advocate for victims in the person of the University of British Columbia's Benjamin Perrin. The law professor is in the midst of a three-year research project, and has already stirred things up somewhat with revelations from his team's research. Previously, he wrote a 2007 report on the potential for sexual enslavement leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Ironically, it's the Games that seem to have spurred British Columbia -- obviously a portal for Asian smuggling -- to assume a leadership role in Canada. In fact, according to Perrin, although China and the Philippines are in the top four among source countries in human trafficking, it is Romania that heads the sorry list, along with Moldova. The problem is spread across Canada.

Today marks the final day of an inaugural international conference on human trafficking sponsored by the B.C. government. Perrin will be a featured speaker, along with colleagues from the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Topics will range from transit trafficking to the U.S. to working with immigrant women in indoor-based sex work. At the very least, it should draw some needed publicity to a terrible and neglected blight here and abroad.

Among other shockers, Perrin has had to remind RCMP brass that their force was responsible for 61 per cent of human trafficking cases referred to Immigration Canada -- with recommendations that victims be granted temporary residence permits. These permits provide access to medical treatment, counselling and work opportunities for the blameless. In fact, of those who came forward, Immigration Canada refused the permits to fully one-quarter of applicants, which doesn't exactly encourage participation.

There are a few bright spots. For example, Perrin has kind words for B.C.'s human trafficking office and Alberta's funding of Changing Together, an Edmonton-based NGO that provides victim services. (In fact, the immigrant-centred organization is staging its own November human trafficking sessions in Lac La Biche and Fort McMurray.) Ontario and Quebec lag far behind, in the professor's view. Overall, when it comes to stopping child-sex tourism, "Canada continues to be an international embarrassment."

In his prescriptions for change -- outside an obvious need to secure believable data -- Perrin maintains that we must look beyond the holds of cargo ships and stop ignoring the stories of young women simply because they are written off as sex-trade workers. "We need to look below the surface. What is needed now is a national and provincial commitment to vigorously put law enforcement and victim-assistance laws into action."

Tough legislation is already on the books. But word must get out that Canada will never be a haven for the vermin that would seek to buy, sell and exploit human beings. With a re-elected federal government that likes to make loud noises about law and order, here is an area for redress all of us might agree on.

When a reporter asked Perrin why we have been so slow to act, Perrin said the answer was simple. "We've always thought that Canadians are too nice to treat people as property." You'd like to think that remains the case. But the time to institute the full-court press that the situation demands is pressing.

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