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Canada's slave trade: a people plundered.

The foreign nanny who smiles but doesn't talk to others at the playground, who because her time isn't her own won't try to make friends.

They're searching for a life: some for a job that will give them money to send home to their families, others for an immigration ticket after their two-year contract is clone, still others to fuel an addiction that was practically bred into them by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents during a poverty-stricken childhood.

They are all the faces of Canada's slave trade.

"Human trafficking is a long-standing concern internationally and in Canada. In pure numbers, the United States maybe the largest destination, but Canada is a transit country and a place where trafficking occurs in our own borders. Between 700,000 and four million people each year are affected nationally, mostly by sexual exploitation," Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan told a conference in Winnipeg last June. "The lack of clarity of numbers shows how difficult it is for law enforcement to get a handle on the problem. Each one of those is someone's son or daughter, granddaughter or grandson, sister or brother."

"Workers have become commodities for sale," said Connie Sorio, the Asia-Pacific partnerships coordinator for Kairos, an ecumenical justice organization, and a member of the International Migrants Alliance. Sorio was speaking to 30 women gathered at Caught in Traffick, a seminar organized by the Women's Inter-Church Council of Canada.

"Many of them come to Canada in a fraudulent manner. They were told, 'In two years, you'll be a permanent resident. Just please your employer," continued Sorio.

"They've paid $5,000 to $10,000 to get a job offer here in Canada. In many cases, those offers are not legitimate. They have come here having paid a third party and they've had to get loans or are in debt. They come and there's no job."

The overwhelming loss of hope and the sudden realization of being trapped, accented by fear of letting family down, are trademarks of people being trafficked for their labour.

"If you're brought here fraudulently and are being forced to do a job not in the contract, if someone is benefiting monetarily from the work you are doing, you are a victim of human trafficking," she said.

It's unsettling to think about the people taking on jobs so poorly paid that Canadians won't do them, she added--but that simply enables the exploitation to continue.

"Immigration has become employer-driven. At whose expense? The worker's," said Sorio.

Although Canada was one of the founding countries of the International Labour Organization in 1919 and endorsed UN conventions to support workers in 1948 and 1972, its record since 1983 has not been good. The ILO has repeatedly ruled Canadian governments guilty of violating its freedom of association principles.

Sorio said this environment makes Canada fertile for those who seek to take advantage of workers--whether prostitutes, nannies, domestic labourers, construction workers or agricultural help. Unrepresented and alone, they are vulnerable. "We should be true to the definition of trafficking. It's not just sex work," she said. "The [federal] foreign worker program is good: people can earn money to send to their families, but unfortunately the program has grown exponentially and we cannot ensure the rights of migrant workers are being respected and enforced."

The live-in caregiver program attracts thousands of Filipino young women who train at federally approved schools to make it into the program. They sign contracts that have them working five days a week, but end up working seven, often on duty around the clock.

When her employers call on her to watch the kids evenings and weekends--all against her contract--she agrees for fear of losing the job; she must work for at least two years in order to ease her immigration application, Sorio explained.

"[Their contracts] didn't say they'd have to do the gardening in the summer or shovel the snow in the winter or clean the windows. Because they're living with their employers, they're forced to do those things." They can't make waves, or even ask for what Canadians may take for granted, as risking their job would risk deportation, she said.

Vulnerability is essential to the crime.

Worldwide, one in five victims of human trafficking is a child. According to the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, every country is involved in some way. While 18 per cent of incidents involve forced labour, 79 per cent involve sexual exploitation.

Nannies, farmhands or young women thinking they're going to be domestic workers but forced into the sex trade all have one thing in common: loss of control and a fear of being deported. They're willing to do what they have to do to become permanent residents.

In 2012, there were 338,189 temporary workers in Canada, double from a decade earlier. And the federal government has floated the idea of an accelerated scheme that would fast track migrant workers.

But Sorio and other advocates are concerned that many workers are all too vulnerable to exploitation--even though they pay into Canada's employment and pension system--terrified they'll be fired and deported if they complain or seek help.

To address this growing concern, the RCMP set up a national human trafficking co-ordination centre. "Canada is a source, transit and destination country. It has a large geography and a diverse culture," said Winnipeg Police Service vice-squad veteran Sgt. Darryl Ramkisoon.

And women are often the chosen targets. "Drug traffickers are asked why they're choosing to traffic women. They tell the officers it's easier to control a woman. They don't have to hide her. She can be out in the open. She's too scared to talk. But drugs, they have to hide them," Ramkisoon explained.

June Campbell--a member of the Presbyterian Church in Canada's Justice Ministries Advisory Council--can see it happening in her community of Barrie, Ont. The city of 144,500 has lots of massage parlours--and not those run by registered massage therapists.

She sees the hopeless reality of Isaiah 42:22: "This is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, "Send them back."

So she helped establish a community committee in the spring of 2013,

an initiative that attracted two Georgian College students. What she found out shocked her: young women could trade their dignity--by stripping, for example--for their books for the year. It's an attractive way into an industry that's no longer on the streets, but rather behind closed doors.

Once befriended, the girls are easy to get working. The business happens out of sight of the law thanks to cell phones and text messages, said Joy Smith.

The federal Conservative Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul. Winnipeg, Smith has made human trafficking a major part of her work. "I have been on the streets and between Twitter, Facebook and Blackberries, it all happens behind closed doors in hotels. I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of victims. My life changed and my heart broke."

Smith is proposing a national action plan to combat the crime. Her ideas include immigration policies, developing policies to combat forced labour and child labour abroad (by prohibiting importing products, for example), creating a public awareness campaign in Canada, providing funding for non-governmental organizations to help victims get out and establish a new life, and bolstering training for judges, lawyers and law enforcement officers on human trafficking.

The predators look for the vulnerable but beautiful girls, the innocent ones who can't imagine there's exploitation here in Canada, the ones who even once they're trapped don't realize they're victims, explained Smith. They don't realize they've been preyed upon. It could take years of counselling and work to help them realize they were manipulated and trapped. By then, their dignity and self-respect are gone.

"They have a big struggle. They don't have homes, food, clothes, a network or education. They have their entire lives collapse behind them. Where do they go? They need support systems where they can get their lives back, because they deserve that," Smith said.

She established a foundation to help and last year, police officers from Toronto, Hamilton and Peel Region joined in a ride to raise money for victims. The Ride for Refuge is to be an annual event.

The next step is a victim's bill of rights, she said, a bill of rights that sounds like the rights Canadians take for granted: freedom from oppression, dignity, safety and help to get out and rebuild a life. "There are some days I feel absolutely overwhelmed with it all. But I am comforted by the fact I am trying to do everything I can."

Smith remembers the first girl she helped rescue. "She was in a farmhouse in Saskatchewan. We went over and got her. We went down the basement and pulled her out. She was secured to the bed. She was 14 and had been servicing men. I took her back to her parents thinking I'd done a good deed. The family situation was the beginning of the problem. It's one child at a time. We have not found that girl [again]. I don't think she's with us any more."

Another strategy is to adopt a Nordic model, in which the customers of prostitutes are prosecuted, said Justice Minister Swan. "It's really the demand side we need to go after. The real question is whether it should be legal in 2013 in Canada for someone to buy sex. The challenge is for people of faith to find ways to put pressure on politicians of all stripes and levels to change that," said Swan.

"We need a dialogue in this country. I hope one of the results is you knock on my door and the premier's door to make some change."

Presbyterian Dineke Kraay attended the Caught in Traffick conference. She said being aware now requires action--to join Smith and Swan, to advocate for laws, to not turn a blind eye to forced labour or prostitution.

"It hit me: although I never before knew it, women in Canada are beingtrafficked. It was always outside. It isn't us. It wasn't me," she said at the Winnipeg conference.

"If I'm a Canadian--and I'm a Canadian by choice--then I am responsible."

Smith continues her work at the national level. And through her foundation, she privately works to inspire and to offer hope.

"We can make change happen. Everyone has a right to be free in this country, to grow, prosper and be safe. That is our God-given right. That is not happening," said Smith.

"I want to be safe and I want my community to be safe and I don't want people to be bought and sold. That's the Canadian way."

'The real question is whether it should be legal in 2013 in Canada for someone to buy sex. The challenge is for people of faith to find ways to put pressure on politicians of all stripes and levels to change that'

Force labourers trafficked, defrauded and denied basic human rights.

Laurie Watt is a journalist based in Barrie, Ont. She attends St. Andrew's, Barrie.
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Title Annotation:Cover Story
Author:Watt, Laurie
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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