Human trafficking happens every single day, right here in Canada. This may be surprising to some but it’s an ugly reality not often discussed in the media, and one that effects a startlingly high amount of different people right across the country.

Police in the Peel Region of Ontario have been providing safety advice and resources to help parents and residents identify all of the warning signs to ensure themselves and their loved ones are protected.

“Young people are being exploited through human trafficking, and many are from stable, well-educated families,” the Peel Regional Police wrote on their site just last week.

“Human trafficking is the illegal recruitment, transportation or hiding of someone for the purpose of exploiting them. Human trafficking includes labour and prostitution. Prostitution on the streets is known as ‘the game,’” it adds.

Police say that young people tend to be the most vulnerable, the average age of victims for traffickers range from the ages of 13 and 21 years of age.

The human traffickers can be men or women and are often known as pimps or madams. Traffickers use control tactics on their victims by showing violence and all other methods of influence, such as intimidation and threats to the person’s safety or the safety of family members.

Traffickers often build a relationship with their victims by first pretending to be a friend or significant other to gain their trust. This process is what the police often refer to as “grooming.”

It’s very common for traffickers to approach their victims in places like a mall, shopping centres, clubs, bars, or a variety of other public locations.

The police website goes on to mention the warning signs including: isolation from loved ones and close friends, multiple cell phones, frequent movement often from hotel to hotel, carrying of condoms or sexual aids, drug use, avoids carrying identification, and visible signs of scarring or tattoos resulting from branding or Stockholm Syndrome.

Major events and tourist attractions have become popular targets for traffickers to groom potential victims. This is a real issue right here in Canada that needs to be addressed.

Indigenous women are prime targets for human traffickers

The Indigenous community in Canada makes up 4.9% of the population but accounts for more than 50% of all sex trafficking victims across Canada.

Law enforcement has acknowledged the history of bias and racism from the past and how this has prevented police from fully understanding why Indigenous women are vulnerable.

“There is bias in the police service. We recognize it, that there’s implicit bias. We certainly have taken steps to try to address that in a myriad of ways,” says Danny Smyth, Winnipeg’s deputy police chief.

Insight and training resources are growing but still need more support from all organizations who are working to combat human trafficking.

Dresses hung in the trees to represent the Indigenous women lost to human trafficking and other crimes.

The CEO of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, Barbara Gosse, said that research has found that Indigenous women and girls are over-represented in the victims of human trafficking population.

“Many young people travel from their home communities to schools in larger cities, where they’re not used to the environment,” she said.

National Action Plan was a good start

The Conservative Party of Canada became the first (and only) political party to include a campaign promise in their election platform on human trafficking back in 2011.

In June 6, 2012, the Government of Canada launched the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (the National Action Plan),

This action created Canada’s first integrated law enforcement team(s) dedicated to combating human trafficking in Canada and abroad.

However, the increasing need for front-line training has to be met and more efforts around protecting potential victims in vulnerable communities plagued with human trafficking need to be made.

The Liberals have failed to act

The Liberal government has failed to take a proactive approach on this important issue and let the National Action Plan expire in March 2016 without an extension or replacement plan.

In December 2017, the Department of Public Safety quietly released the 2016-2017 Horizontal Evaluation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

The Evaluation found that there is a continuing need to have a NAP-HT in order to establish federal initiatives. Under the NAP-HT, federal and provincial organizations would be required to partner together and strengthen accountability. The NAP-HT is needed to meet Canada’s ongoing international commitments to combat human trafficking.

Conservative MP co-chair’s parliamentary group tackling modern day slavery

The Post Millennial had the opportunity to speak with first-term Conservative MP Arnold Viersen about the issue of human trafficking, something he has been busy working on in his role as Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

Arnold Viersen, Conservative MP and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

Why do you think Indigenous women are massively over represented in human trafficking?

AV: In Canada, many victims fall prey to traffickers due to some sort of vulnerability, be it emotional, physical, financial, etc or a combination of these and other factors. Traffickers are very good at identifying these vulnerabilities and exploiting them.

The 2014 Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada found the five most common factors for being trafficked in Canada were:

  • Being female.
  • Being poor.
  • Having a history of violence and/or neglect.
  • Being sexually abused as a child.
  • Having a low level of education.

They also looked specifically at the higher rates of indigenous women and girls in sex trafficking.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) looked at studies of Indigenous women or youth in the sex industry, starting in 1982 up to 2011, they found “themes that closely match the risk factors for sex trafficking: the impact of colonialism on societies, the legacies of the residential schools and their inter-generational effects, family violence, childhood abuse, poverty, homelessness, lack of basic survival necessities, race and gender-based discrimination, lack of education, migration, and substance addictions.”

Just how real is human trafficking in Canada? Where does it happen and to whom?

AV: The arrests and cases that we see in the news are the tip of the iceberg. Human trafficking, forced labour or sex trafficking can and does happen across Canada in every community.

It’s happening with 10 minutes of where you live. The number of trafficking in person offenses has increased every year since 2014, however, the number of prosecuted traffickers has decreased since 2014 (Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and RCMP data).

This past summer a Statistics Canada report on human trafficking confirmed what other research is showing:

  • Incidents of human trafficking continue to rise (Over 50% of the police reported cases from 2009-2016 have taken place in the latter two years 2015-2016).
  • Victims of human trafficking are most often young women.
  • The vast majority of persons accused of human trafficking are male and young.

In your work, have you experienced a lack of awareness about this issue? 

AV: Certainly. Despite human trafficking being a Criminal Code offence since 2005, most people I talk to are surprised it happens here. They think it is something that happens in Eastern Europe or Asia. They are shocked to learn that 93% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from within Canada, 50% of Canada’s human trafficking victims are Indigenous, and 75% of those in prostitution were forced in as children.

Is there one single policy fix for this issue or are there many steps to take?

AV: There is not a single policy fix. The increase in charges we are seeing is largely due to law enforcement becoming more aware and effective at investigating. Many of the police services in Canada are doing great work. At the same time, it’s a profitable crime and we know it is growing in Canada and around the world.

It’s concerning that right as we see this increase in human trafficking cases, the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking expired. The NAP was valuable as it recognized the complexity of this crime and the four key elements required to fight it: Prosecution, Protection, Prevention and Partnerships. These need to work together through policy at all levels of government and in communities.

It’s notable that each year the US Trafficking in Persons Report has at the top of their list of recommendations for Canada to renewing the National Action Plan. We need the federal government to show leadership on this.

These victims that we talk about are real people who have had their lives tragically altered. They need support, they need housing, they need trauma counseling.

Is this a government problem, a community problem or both?

AV: It’s a moral problem which is why both need to be involved. There are certainly ways for the government to be involved. Especially around enforcing sex buyer laws, to reducing the demand for sex trafficking, creating more awareness about the issue and providing support for victims of trafficking.

There is also opportunities for all-party work on this issue. I started the All Party Parliamentary Group to end slavery and human trafficking to help connect politicians who share the goal of ending human trafficking and come up with solutions we can all support.

However it’s also important for communities to be involved educating youth and leaders about human trafficking, to promote healthy stable families and reduce the vulnerabilities that lead to sex trafficking.

Action needed today

Amidst the various scandals and ethics violations that have plagued the Trudeau government over the past three years, important issues like human trafficking often get overshadowed and remain unaddressed.

Often forgotten during whatever political drama Ottawa experiences are the families of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) across Canada who are still left seeking answers.

Now is the time for Trudeau and his government to follow through on their promises of reconciliation, not to mention their duty to protect the broader public, and implement a plan to combat human trafficking right here in Canada.