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Human Trafficking May Be Closer to Home Than We Think

Human trafficking may be closer than we think. The common perception about women being traded into sexual slavery is that it happens in bigger cities, other countries. But Cpl. Mac MacIver, human trafficking awareness coordinator, says it is happening all around us.

"It happens to people in our society. You think it doesn't but it does. Even if it's not going on in your town, there are young girls who have left this community and communities nearby that have been trafficked... It's happening in every province in Canada."

MacIver gave a seminar at the Rodd Wednesday afternoon to a packed room. As part of RCMP's Immigration and Passport Section he has been traveling Atlantic Canada in an attempt to educate people of the growing organized crime happening around us.

He said people are not only trafficked into Canada to be sold here — many transporters use this as a spot of transfer.

"New Brunswick is a prime example because it is so close to the United States."

International trafficking

The UN reports say 700,000 people are recruited, moved from their homes and exploited in the labour, sex and organ trades every year. MacIver said statistics on Canadian trafficking are virtually non-existent.

In international trafficking, passports and ID are taken away. If the victims refuse to work, their captor may threaten to kill them or their family members.

Women are often brutally raped or branded with coat hangers.

Coming into Canada from other countries, these victims are often afraid of police authority because their police may be corrupt. This fear is exploited by captors.

Trafficking is often confused with being smuggled into the country, but trafficking is unique because it requires three steps — recruitment, movement and exploitation.

Women often believe they are being smuggled into the country — they want to sneak into Canada, with dreams of a better life here. But soon they learn they have been sold and must now work as slaves.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that woman choose the life of prostitution. While this can be true, they are often forced unwillingly into this situation. Some women are given a "loan" to pay for their trip and illegal documents to get into the country where they plan to start a new life.

"All of a sudden they're put on the streets to work, and guess what, they never pay that debt off because because the interest just keeps accumulating all the time."

The good news for people who have been tricked into slavery is that once they go to police they do not need to fear being exported.

They are given a Temporary Resident Permit, which includes health care, and they are fed and sheltered and given an opportunity to apply for citizenship later.

MacIver has interviewed the victims of such crimes and tries to provide them with counsellors so they can open up about their experiences.

Domestic Trafficking

MacIver warns trafficking doesn't just happen internationally. A border does not always have to be crossed for a woman to find herself enslaved.

"We also have a problem with domestic human trafficking."

Women are first befriended by a recruiter who often becomes their boyfriend and then convinces them move to a new city.

The traffickers will use threats; they may beat or gang rape the person or threaten to kill their family — anything to keep them there.

"They wine them and dine them ... All of a sudden they are moving from one city to another city. Once they get there they are sold and forced to live on the street."

He says it is important, now more than ever, to know what our children are up to.

"Nothing scares me more than when I go to a person's house and have them tell me Johnny or Sarah is in their room on the computer. They don't know who they're talking to... Could be talking to the worst pervert to walk on two feet."

New laws

In 2005, Canada formed a new law to make human trafficking illegal. Bill C-49 makes it a felony to recruit, transport or conceal a person for the purpose of exploiting them. It is also illegal to benefit economically from human trafficking and to destroy travel documents to facilitate the crime.

However, no one has been convicted under these laws as of yet.

"Many police officers don't even know about these laws. Is it their fault? No. They haven't been educated."

Four people are currently in court for a trafficking ring in Nova Scotia.

"It was a massage parlour in a mall. You could walk in off the street. People went on their way home from work — males — stop there before supper time and do whatever they wanted to do. And then go home to their families.

"We are not used to seeing that on the East Coast to that degree," said MacIver.

Miramichi Police Force community officer Const. Todd Chadwick said it was important for our community to wake up to what's going on in Canada.

"This is not miles, or oceans away. It is two degrees away, it is here. We need to stand up and take action," said Chadwick.

Patti Michaud of Family Violence and Community Outreach said Chadwick contacted her after hearing from a community action committee about concerns of a new exotic dance club opening in South Nelson and the crime it could potentially lead to.

MacIver said that while he didn't know what organized crime was happening in New Brunswick, it is important for officers and the public to be educated on warning signs.



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