Human Trafficking in Calgary: Informing a Localized Response. Written by Lara Quarterman, Julie Kaye, and John Winterdyk. Published by ACT Alberta (Action Coalition on Human Trafficking) and the Centre for Criminology and Justice Research (CCJR) at Mount Royal University (MRU). 2012.
Would you recognize a victim of human trafficking if you came across one? A recent study that examines this issue in Calgary suggests that you might not.
Recognizing that there is insufficient information on how communities respond to human trafficking in Canada, ACT Alberta (Action Coalition on Human Trafficking), and the Centre for Criminology and Justice Research (CCJR) at Mount Royal University collaborated to connect with the staff of community agencies that were likely to work with trafficking victims in Calgary. The resulting report, Human Trafficking in Calgary: Informing a Localized Response, highlights a lack of clarity surrounding several pertinent issues, including the definition of human trafficking itself, and provides some suggestions to better address the needs of trafficked persons.
Misunderstandings regarding the definition of human trafficking are multifaceted and lead not only to under-reporting and increased difficulty in addressing victims needs, but also barriers that prevent law enforcement from laying charges against traffickers.
What is Human Trafficking?
According to Canadas Criminal Code, human traffickers are identified as (e)very person who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals, or harbours a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation... (As cited in 2012, p. 11).
How is Human Trafficking Perceived?
Ambiguity over who social agencies consider to be victims of human trafficking is catalyzed by common stereotypes that obscure the understanding of what trafficking is. This report states that the most common perception of a trafficking victim is that of a foreign woman transported to Canada to work in the sex trade. This stereotype puts the focus on women, especially those who have been brought into the country from abroad. It deflects attention away from other types of trafficking victims, making it harder to identify these individuals and to assist them.
Perception vs. Reality:
Trafficking may also involve Canadian citizens, immigrants that come to Canada through legal work programs like TFW (Temporary Foreign Workers), and aboriginals who move from reserves to urban centres. It may also involve immigrants and refugees who are exploited to pay back money they owe to illegitimate immigration services or people who are born in Canada and exploited for labour. Trafficking victims often experience abuse also identified as child abuse, intimate partner violence, or labour disputes. These forms of abuse may be under-reported if they are categorized using these labels.
Definition and the Law:
The report outlines how the Criminal Code definition poses challenges for law enforcement by quoting an officer who states, It is so onerous that we cant actually lay charges to create that case law that defines the Criminal Code
You have to prove a fear, you have to prove that [victims or trafficking] were entirely unwilling or that there was no real consent component at any point (p. 21). According to the report, there have been only 5 cases in Alberta where human trafficking charges have been laid. In 4 of these cases, the charges were dropped (p. 12). The difficulty in laying charges is another factor that can lead to the under-reporting of human trafficking cases in Canada.
So what can be done?
The agency workers that were consulted made several suggestions they believe would do more to address issues that trafficked individuals face. They recommended that public education campaigns targeted at potential trafficking victims and traffickers be developed. As well, training was mentioned by almost 40% of the workers involved. This includes training for workers on how to identify victims and provide more accurate referrals.
This training, however, must be paired with social programming. The problems that trafficked people face are multidimensional. To address these problems, these individuals will require an series of essential services, such as housing, financial support, legal services, counseling, and life skills development. To ensure that their needs are met, there needs to be a stronger network between agencies that assist these individuals. It was suggested that a case worker be assigned to each victim so they do not have to tell their story to each agency they approach for assistance. The case worker could then navigate through the network of social agencies on the victims behalf, ensuring that relevant referrals are made and that no one falls through the cracks.
The underlying issue that continued to arise throughout this report is that there are multiple agencies with mandates that only allow them to support individuals with very specific needs. Instead of relying heavily on a legalistic definition of trafficking, a rights-based approach was recommended that recognizes the specific needs of each individual without requiring that they prove their case. This may include addressing issues that existed before victims were trafficked, which may have made them vulnerable in the first place. Unfortunately, this research does not provide insights from those who were victims of trafficking or those who are at risk, and instead relies on the accuracy of agency workers perceptions of the issue.
Reviewed by Lead Read