Human Trafficking in Canada

Wednesday 19 November 2008, by Vanessa GORDON

When thinking about human trafficking, most of us
conjure up exotic images of gangs, flophouses and
forced prostitution. That is part of it, but in today’s day and
age we should be taking a good look at more mundane
activities. In Canada, as in many parts of the world,
human trafficking has also become a phenomenon in
the services and manufacturing sectors.

Janet Dench, Director of the Canadian Council
for Refugees, explains that through newly created
temporary work permits we are witnessing an explosion
of temporary workers in Canada.
These permits were created to
allow employers to look outside
of Canada for labour forces
that are otherwise difficult to
find within the country. In these
cases, the fine line between
cheap foreign labour and human
trafficking is crossed when
employers that are particularly
driven to keep costs down start
forcing their employees to work
against their will.

Canada’s ‘Live-in Caregiver
Program’ is an example of a
mechanism that is problematic
because if in their first two
years of service caregivers
find themselves the victims of
abuse in the household and
they denounce their employers,
they risk deportation as they
become unemployed while not yet being Canadian
residents. The problem is compounded by the fact that
the caregivers live with their employers, which tends to
isolate them from the outside world.

While the number of forced foreign labourers in Canada
is increasing, Canada’s handling of the growing
number of victims is far from setting an example. At
best, some victims are granted a six-month stay to
consider their options and prepare themselves to go
back to their homeland. At worst, an estimated quarter
of them are detained and deported shortly after being
discovered or coming forward. Even once identified
and offered reprieve from detainment and deportation,
many victims find that they don’t have access to basic
services: everything from housing to medical care
and access to temporary welfare. This is because it
is the responsibility of the provinces to pick up where
the federal system leaves off and ensure access to
these services. The result is arbitrary: in many parts
of the country such services remain non-existent or
non-functional. In these cases, trafficking victims find
themselves in a predicament and simply return to their
home country.

Recent policy changes that prevent the deportation of
identified trafficking victims within three months need
to be put into legislation, if only as a step to encourage
trafficked victim service providers that the changes are
here to stay.

The implementation of the measures
designed to prevent instant
deportation is not as consistent as it
could be. Professor Benjamin Perrin
is a leading Canadian advocate on
the matter. He observes that while
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
have been providing anti-trafficking
training to RCMP recruits and border
and immigration officers, as well as
front-line officers and prosecutors,
there continue to be numerous public
reports of people being deported
before being properly investigated to
determine if they are in fact trafficking
victims. Efforts to determine the root
cause of the problem are hampered
because the content of the training
sessions are not public information.

How we treat trafficking victims is
of concern to us all. It is difficult to
determine the extent of human trafficking in Canada
because in the absence of proper mechanisms to
identify trafficking victims before they are deported,
adequate monitoring and evaluation cannot be put into
place to determine the scope of the problem.

Helping victims is also crucial because restoring their
human rights is, simply, the right thing to do. On a more
practical level, in the absence of services to enable
victims to take control over their lives, once victims are
identified they cannot provide us with the information
we need to break down organized trafficking rings and
bring participants to justice. In other words, we cannot
begin to enforce anti-human trafficking laws in Canada
without first dealing with the consequences of it.

Vanessa Gordon is the Coordinator of the Youth
Internship Program at Alternatives International.

À propos de Vanessa GORDON

International Internships Program

Vanessa has been part of Alternatives’ team for the past three years as a project officer for its Youth Programs. Previously, Vanessa took part in establishing the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime’s first international training institute. She has also worked with the UN High Commission for Human Rights at the Economic Commission in Santiago, Chile, as well as at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (now known as Equitas). Vanessa has a Bachelor’s degree in Politics, honours International Relations and a Master’s degree in Comparative Ethnic Conflict.

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