Human trafficking happens in the dark shadowy alleyways of vague far-away places where violence and exploitation are visible and rampant. Sure, maybe a few people are trafficked into Canada, but the real problem is in Southeast Asia... or Eastern Europe... or... South America. Not here.
At least, that's what I thought before I became involved with the Human Trafficking Working Group at the UBC Faculty of Law. The working group was established to research Canada's involvement in human trafficking and to use that research to make policy recommendations on effective ways to combat this problem. My skepticism and disbelief carried through the initial introduction meeting that touched on the inadequacy of Canada's response to human trafficking and asserted that human trafficking was in fact a rampant problem in Canada, and one that was not being addressed. But as the weeks went by and I did some research, specifically on the prosecution of human traffickers internationally, it became starkly apparent that human trafficking in Canada is thriving, and further that a major part of the problem involves the domestic trafficking of Canadian women and girls. Not only is it happening here, it is happening to us.
All forms of human trafficking, and a number of related offenses (receiving a financial or material benefit from trafficking, withholding or destroying a victim's travel documents or identification to facilitate trafficking etc.) are prohibited in the Criminal Code. However, prosecution statistics are abysmal -- provincial governments laid 17 trafficking charges during the reporting period for the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, and secured 3 trafficking related convictions - and a culture of relative apathy on the part of the government continues. Human trafficking is not a contentious political issue, particularly compared to more hotly debated criminal activities like drug trafficking, and the government appears to prefer making ambitious action plans to actually taking any action.
A number of diligent non-governmental organizations, law enforcement officials and committed individuals are working hard to ensure that government policy and performance improves in this area and their efforts and impact should not be underestimated. In the meantime, vulnerable men, women, and children are being exploited all over Canada. As more organized crime networks and individuals become involved in the lucrative and thus far relatively low-risk business of trafficking in human beings, the problem will likely only get worse.