Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 20, 2006
Traffickers exploit young and vulnerable
Religious orders protest exploitation through sex trade
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Human traffickers are coercing at least 600 foreign women and girls into joining the Canadian sex trade each year, says an official with the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC).
Dave Bouchard says about the same number of Canadian women and girls are coerced to go overseas to join the trade.
"And here is another part to this - some 1,500 people are smuggled each year into the United States from Canada to toil in brothels, sweatshops, domestic jobs or construction jobs," he says. "This is one of the fastest growing organized criminal activities that we have."
Bouchard, the CRC field worker for justice, peace and the integrity of creation for Alberta and British Columbia, will speak on human trafficking March 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Providence Renewal Centre, 3005-119 St. A play on the issue will come to Alberta in November.
The CRC, Franciscans International, Amnesty International and other organizations have chosen human trafficking as their focus justice issue for the next two years. Bouchard, a 52-year-old teacher and father of four from Red Deer, gets much of his information from reports by an RCMP Task Force on human trafficking and other local and international sources.
"In the global scene the biggest group that is being targeted right now is Eastern Europeans," he says. "The Philippines is also a target country and now Mexico is becoming one. Extreme poverty is the link for all these countries."
Canadian victims are likely being sent to countries where the language would become a barrier for them, such as South America or Southeast Asia.
"They always take you to a country where you would not be able to understand the language," Bouchard said.
"They lure their victims with offers of jobs that they could not get at home like being models for agencies. Young girls in particular are interested in being models so they can be susceptible to that."
Most Canadian victims are young, attractive inner-city girls who are looking for a break in life. When they get to their country of destination "they end up going to brothels and strip clubs and end up in pornographic magazines," Bouchard explained.
Most human trafficking is concentrated in big cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
"This is definitely a global thing and it is organized crime. Who the kingpin is we aren't sure," Bouchard said. "There are Canadians involved in it; Canadians trafficking other Canadians so they would use people within our own country that they are hiring to be able to find the people.
"The people who are trafficking get paid for every human being they are able to convince to join the group.
"They get them a visa and they get them a passport to the country. As soon as they arrive they take away the passport and the visa."
Traffickers might charge their unsuspecting victims $10,000 for getting them to another country and when they get there they have to repay the money by working as prostitutes. Global statistics speak of about 800,000 people being trafficked annually.
"We have had situations where people have been being brought in individually as nannies and they are not treated properly; they are made to work 13 hours a day for little pay and almost no benefits; that goes against our Canadian labour code," Bouchard said. "Sometimes an individual is brought in just for the benefit of the fellow who is hiring them as sex slaves."
Eastern European women are being brought into Canada to work in escort agencies and brothels. "They are kept out of the public as much as possible. So if they are working on stage, for instance, you can imagine they are living in very austere conditions in some basement where they just go from the stage back to their room and back up to the stage."
Why don't these people escape? "Well, because they don't have a passport and as soon as they run to the government they are illegal immigrants so they get shipped back home and then the whole thing begins again," Bouchard explained. "We don't have anything in Canada to allow these people who are escaping to get any kind of help; immigration just sends them right back home."
The CRC is currently working on a postcard campaign that asks the federal minister of immigration to put legislation in place to protect the victims. The idea is to get similar protection for victims as in the U.S., where victims receive a temporary visa so they can stay in the country and get help.
"We are trying to get that in Canada," Bouchard stressed.
There is some good news in the work against human trafficking. In November the federal government passed legislation that criminalizes certain aspects of the trafficking business.
Anybody convicted with trafficking of human beings can get a life sentence and anybody convicted of cooperating in a trafficking scheme could get up to 14 years in prison, Bouchard explained. "So now the RCMP can actually go and charge people. Before we never had that."