Victims of Trafficking in Persons: Perspectives from the Canadian Community Sector

4. Discussion

Similarities, differences and specificities across sites revealed in the findings highlight the particular ways in which the trafficking issue is approached and dealt with by the respondents interviewed.

With respect to the definition of trafficking, most respondents use working definitions that are consistent with the definition of the UN Protocol on Trafficking and often perceive trafficking as part of a continuum of gender exploitation of women that manifests itself in different forms.

Trafficking is both a domestic and an international issue, and although it is commonly associated with illegal entry into Canada, in many cases it is associated with legitimate Canadian immigration programs such as the LCP, temporary work visas for exotic dancers, or the sponsorship of mail-order brides (Langevin & Belleau, 2001).

In spite of the fact that most agencies lack a specific mandate to work in a preventative or protective way with trafficking victims, these organizations manage to respond to some of the victims’ needs. It is extremely revealing that all the agencies consulted highlight the need for adequate funding from the federal and provincial governments. Regularization of the victims’ immigration status and the implementation of human rights, including labour rights, were also identified as pressing needs. Funding for prevention, which must address the conditions of poverty, domestic violence and drug dependency, particularly on Aboriginal reserves, is essential.

Secrecy, ignorance and misinformation regarding trafficking are challenging problems in the effort to improve service provision to this vulnerable population. Disclosure of involvement in trafficking is difficult for victims whose trust in authorities or in service providers has been eroded by their previous experiences of exploitation and their permanent state of insecurity. It is also critical that public ignorance or misunderstanding of the issue and its prevalence in Canada be addressed; awareness within the civil society may be created through the media or through information campaigns run by advocacy organizations or service providers.

The systemic barriers facing trafficking victims intersect with one another and hinder their access to a wide range of services. Among these barriers are federal policies established by the Canada Health Act (CHA, 1985), the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA, 2001) and the Criminal Code (1985).

With regard to the Canada Health Act, the federal government stipulates that all permanent residents of Canada must be eligible for provincial health plans, thereby excluding many trafficked women with precarious immigration status, although provinces have some leeway for interpretation. The Canada Health Act defines those who are eligible for public health insurance as a resident of a province and who are “lawfully entitled to be or to remain in Canada who makes his home and is ordinarily present in the province, but does not include a tourist, a transient or a visitor to the province” (CHA, 1985, section 10). Section 11 also states that a province may not impose a waiting period or minimum period of residence in excess of 3 months to be eligible to receive insured health services. Community organizations seek new and creative venues to find health services that minimally cope with the needs of the victims of trafficking.

The objectives of Canadian immigration policy are laid out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These objectives include permitting Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration (Section 3(1)(a)) and promoting the successful integration of immigrants into Canada (Section 3(1)(e)). The immigration categories established by the IRPA are oriented towards the attainment of the immigration objectives stated in the Act.

While different provinces have different arrangements with the federal government, most play some role in selecting migrants that meet a pre-identified need (especially in the labour force), as well as in the socio-economic integration of new arrivals. For all provinces except Ontario and Quebec, immigrants have the option of applying directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada or applying first to the province for assessment as a provincial nominee. Provincial Nomination is based on the province’s assessment of its immigration needs and the perceived veracity of the immigrant’s desire to settle in that province.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)’s programs regarding undocumented migrants, whether trafficked or smuggled, are focused for the most part on preventing their entry into Canada and prosecuting those who facilitate illegal entry or those who use illicit means for entering Canada. In late 2003, the enforcement of the IRPA (that is, enforcing immigration laws at points of entry into Canada or detaining individuals who fail to conform with the provisions of the Act) was transferred from CIC to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) (Oxman-Martinez & Hanley, 2004). As a matter of fact, none of the current CIC programs are geared to protecting trafficking victims.

Criminal Code offences give more possibilities for dealing with trafficking issues from a prosecution perspective. In fact, Canada is moving to create a more comprehensive and effective legislative framework to combat trafficking in persons. In November 2005, Bill C-49, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) came into force. The amendments prohibit trafficking in persons, prohibit persons from benefiting economically from trafficking in persons, and prohibit the withholding or destroying of identity, immigration or travel documents to facilitate the trafficking of persons. Along with proposed changes to the Criminal Code, other changes have been observed, in particular the use of IRPA as an instrument for prosecuting traffickers. The specific offence of trafficking in persons contained in the IRPA is punishable by up to life imprisonment and/or a fine of $1 million.

Current legislation favours preventative and prosecution measures but fails to provide protection of the basic rights of trafficking victims.

Systemic barriers also include a wide gap in communication between NGOs and government policy decision-makers. Efforts could be made to improve communication with community groups and educate them on many of the current objectives, strategies and actions of the federal government to combat trafficking, such as the targeted training for law enforcement and other officials, the development of an anti-trafficking website and the production and dissemination of informational pamphlets to educate on the dangers of trafficking in persons.

An important obstacle to victim’s services identified at the Winnipeg and Vancouver sites concerned the provision of services to status and non-status Aboriginal victims of internal trafficking. The debate over jurisdictional issues and funding impacted the ability of the agencies to provide the necessary services.

Agencies’ responses to questions concerning the outcomes of former trafficking victims once they stop receiving services reflect the difficulty in keeping track of former clients. Victims’ paths after termination of services vary widely; there are those who are granted status or have their status regularized and who stay in the country, those who are deported, and those who cross the border into the United States.

Organizations clearly recognize the necessity of statistical evidence to influence policy; however, they are reluctant to gather systematic information on trafficking victims. This information could constitute a corpus of statistical evidence that would allow the different levels of government to intervene adequately based on the real scope and gravity of the problem. Among the reasons evoked to avoid data collection is the victim’s need to remain anonymous as well as agency workers’ fear of retaliation by traffickers. Interestingly, when expressing their needs, agencies tend to signal the lack of hard data to work with when dealing with trafficking.

The development of anti-racism and anti-oppression models which apply a gender lens by federal and provincial governmental agencies as well as by NGOs was mentioned as a mechanism to avoid inequality and gender, race and ethnic discrimination and to better protect victims of trafficking.

Inequalities related to the global economic disparity between countries of the North and the South, and the colonization of Aboriginal peoples emerge as the driving force behind the domestic and international trade in persons. Extreme gradients of wealth, power and opportunity leave certain individuals and populations excessively vulnerable to exploitation, while unjustly granting others the power to exercise leverage over them. The prevalence of debt bondage and the exploitation of children within a purportedly “developed” country are abhorrent to the vast majority of Canadians and highlight the critical importance of addressing these foundational inequalities.

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