21st century human trafficking in Canada?

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday March 18 2015 in Opinion
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The topic of human trafficking seems out of sync in a post-modern country and society as Canada and Canadians. But you be the judge; hopefully, also a consequent activist against this, a scourge on humanity from time immemorial; a scourge still endemic to every continent. To begin, what are some apt questions? For example, what local organizations to contact? What are tell-tale signs? How are victims controlled? Do sports extravaganzas like Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games, increase demands for human trafficking? And why get involved, anyway?


Below are four present-day examples of this. Not only Canadian, these are also Ontario-based. While the last occurred decades ago, the first three occurred in 2014. They involved the media and law enforcement from the RCMP to police forces, provincial and municipal.


In February 2014, a headline in the Sudbury Star read: “Police find sex slaves in Sudbury”. According to the article, in Sudbury and in other municipalities, young women, in increasing numbers were being forced into sex slavery. Research showed that trafficking humans flourishes in environments in which traffickers believe the police are uncaring or unwilling to investigate. In this instance, more than 300 young women were forced into sex acts multiple times a day. The Criminal Code refers to this as human trafficking: victims being forced to perform through threats of violence, drug dependency and other forms of coercion.

Likewise, in April 2014, Jeff Mitchell, in MetroLand Media, wrote an article, “Human Trafficking: Durham police battle increase in human trafficking”. The sub-head to the story was “Sex Slavery not going away”. It was about police in the Municipality of Durham grappling with what they describe as a growing incidence of young women being forced into the sex trade.


According to Sergeant Ron Kapuscinski, the rise in human trafficking is a significant issue. The youngest female identified was 15 years old. An 18-year-old woman, forced into the sex trade, suffered sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm. These vulnerable victims (are sought out and essentially enslaved), cutting them off from the outside world and making them fearful and reliant on their captors. The officer admits that it’s an uphill battle, “with the perpetrators using fear or restraint, be it psychological or physical”. He stated, “we’re seeking out victims of human trafficking, (primarily those) forced to do things against their own free will”.


In July 2014, Angela Hennessey wrote in VICE Media LLC that, “Human Trafficking is Rampant in Canada”. (Apparently) the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) “had removed 20 members of a human trafficking ring. It was busted when a victim escaped and told authorities about the atrocities he and 18 others were forced to endure. The victims, who had been recruited (abroad) and had their passports immediately confiscated were housed in the basements of homes located in busy suburban neighbourhoods in Hamilton. They were seen by neighbours leaving the house early every day and returning late every evening. Yet no one had a clue about what was going on until two years later when one escaped and sought assistance.


The writer also quoted Timea Nagy, herself a human trafficking survivor and advocate: “This case was only the tip of the iceberg. Human trafficking is alive and well in Canada.” Nagy added that she gets calls “every single day from the police about human trafficking cases”.


Police forces across Canada report similar patterns of forcibly coercing individuals enslaved through fear of injury, threats of harm, and particularly in circumstances of sexual slavery, forcibly getting victims addicted to hard drugs – paid for by selling themselves sexually.


So, why get involved? Because in addition to the above, human trafficking could involve someone near and dear to you. As was the personal experience of a former teacher. He’d noticed while teaching a class on the third floor of a Toronto high school, that a female student would regularly request use of the bathroom within minutes of returning to class after the midday lunch period.


Thinking nothing amiss, he’d allow her to. However, he also noticed some other things…singly not unusual…but collectively? One was that she’d oft be gone for several minutes, up to half an hour. Also, that on leaving the class, instead of veering left to the nearest washroom, she’d turn right towards the stairs, nearby. He also observed that she’d try to leave shortly after a vehicle was driven alongside the building towards the rear parking lot, its horn honking. Twice.


A teacher to whom students could confide, he awaited an occasion when, having an assistant observe his class, he followed. Seconds later, she was entering a car, its engine running.


“Who are you!” he demanded of the driver, whose countenance was caught off-guard.


This teacher called her out of the car, the door still half-opened; threatened dire consequences on the driver and directed her, in the man’s presence, to accompany him – the teacher – to the principal’s office, “to call parents and police”.


In addition, to the driver’s chagrined face, what had struck the teacher even more, was the look on his student’s face: one of surprise; immense despair; then utter relief! It turned out that the man would arrange to have clients await on short notice in a nearby park. He’d threatened, if she “didn’t (come to) scar your pretty face with (a nail)”. A Grade Nine student, barely 15.


So, why get involved? Because human trafficking always involves someone’s relative as victim. And someone’s relative, as victimiser. And even if it doesn’t, when was it ever wrong, doing what is right? And as a spiritual directive, Psalm 37 enjoins on you, “To trust in God and do good”; and, as the Good Samaritan showed, to selflessly act, even on the behalf of strangers.


To assist, Google/contact local and national organizations that serve victims regardless of creed and orientation. One locally is the Chrysalis Anti-Human Trafficking Network (www.chrysalisnetwork.org). Volunteers, to cope with the trauma encountered helping victims, must be trained. There is also Toronto’s Covenant House, offering shelter for homeless youth. ADRA Canada (www.adracanada.com), Adventist-based, tax-deductible provides medical care, housing, water, etc. It’s also experienced in finding, freeing and rehabilitating victims of sexual slavery. Sited on social media is Hope for the Sold (www.facebook.com/hopeforthesold). A movie, The Seasoning House, is not for minors (http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/human-trafficking-and-sexual-abuse-rates-are-on-the-rise).


Finally, as advised by the RCMP, the following are some probable signs of someone being trafficked. With the caveat that while “there are very few clear black and white indicators pointing to human trafficking”, yet a combination of these could assist an observer. A person:


  • is controlled or intimidated by someone else (i.e. constantly escorted or watched)
  • is unable to speak on their own behalf and may not be English/French speaking
  • does not have passport/other I.D; unfamiliar with the neighborhood they live/work in
  • is moved frequently by their “traffickers”; may have injuries/bruises from beatings
  • may show visible signs of torture, i.e., cigarette burns, cuts
  • may show visible signs of branding or scarring (indicating ownership by the trafficker)
  • may show signs of malnourishment
  • may express fear and intimidation through facial expressions and/or body language


To conclude, and using the immortal words of the German anti-Nazi pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims caught under the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself!”


To be continued: Defining Europe: Bach with Brass-knuckles?

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