By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
If asked what the definition of human trafficking is, many would be able to recite something close to the illegal trade or selling of people for the purpose of exploitation.
But, if the same people were asked what human trafficking looks like, most couldn’t say.
One description that probably wouldn’t be relayed is modern day slavery, said Aura Burditt, chair of the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee (LAHT).
“They all think it (slavery) was taken care of hundreds of years ago … so they don’t believe that it actually exists today or in what capacity slavery actually exists,” she said. “They see exploitation differently than they see enslavement.”
Burditt pointed to cases involving restaurant work, domestic nannies, agricultural labour or within the construction industry, where people are trafficked in and forced to work, rather than just being taken advantage of.
“It’s very difficult for even professionals to draw that line, especially if you’re trying to put it into a box that applies to certain legislation,” she said.
Without being able to identify what human trafficking is, Burditt said it’s difficult to stop it. Much of that recognition piece comes down to public awareness and collaboration between law enforcement, government and community groups, she added.
To date, the RCMP is aware of 23 cases in Canada where human trafficking charges were laid and the accused have been convicted. More than 40 have been convicted in these cases and 56 victims have been saved from the hands of the traffickers.
Currently, there are around 60 Canadian cases involving just under 100 individuals accused of human trafficking offences before the courts, which involve a total of nearly 150 victims.
With that in mind, Burditt said she was thrilled when news broke about Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking earlier this month. The plan will see trafficking combated through collaborative efforts from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), nearly 20 federal ministries, local police services and non-governmental organizations (NGO).
“I think being able to combine efforts, being able to communicate back and forth more freely and becoming more aware of what else is going on in our community, as well as across our country, is critical to being able to be effective,” Burditt said.
London North Centre MP Susan Truppe said the purpose of the action plan is to step up efforts to address the issue of human trafficking both in Canada and abroad.
Truppe detailed initiatives that fall under the action plan, which will see $25 million funneled into many initiatives over four years. Those include the creation of an integrated law enforcement team, front-line training and some funding will go toward trafficking victims.
“We’re also going to strengthen the co-ordination with the domestic and international partners who contribute to Canada’s efforts to combat human trafficking,” she said. “With our government’s national plan, this will hopefully, if not put an end to it, at least bring awareness to it.”
One key initiative that’s being done through the plan is data collection by the RCMP.
Sgt. Marie-Claude Arsenault, with the national police force, said one of the RCMP’s roles will be gathering intelligence and data from police investigations, which will be shared across the country.
Arsenault added the centre will ensure information will be shared with police departments across the county, which can be used to help with investigations, detections, the prioritization of investigations, as well as the ability to link instances with cases from other jurisdictions.
“We can help them (local law enforcers) co-ordinate and find the links between different organizations or individuals in different cities,” Arsenault said.
While much of the data will be shared with law enforcement groups, Burditt stressed she was excited about the prospect of information also being shared with NGOs.
Burditt added she hopes the plan will work as a way of feeding up and filtering down information across the board.
“That’s necessary to have a combined front when you’re fighting something that’s this complex and serious an issue,” Burditt said.
Information sharing is one way awareness will be increased, Burditt added, especially since the RCMP will be tracking cases where trafficking is suspected, but no charges are laid under that legislation.
“It’s hidden because a lot of cases are not reported in the first place or they’re prosecuted under other laws,” Burditt said, explaining that someone could be charged under domestic abuse or living on the avails of prostitution, rather than trafficking.
“The national action plan will be able to scoop some of those statistics and put some context around what is actually is a trafficking case, but may be prosecuted under other legislation.
“So you’re going to see a more accurate picture as people become aware of more and more cases and are able to identify them.”
But those numbers will probably increase once the awareness piece for the public, organizations and even law enforcement teams is in full swing, Arsenault said.
“For us, it is a crime that is hidden and clandestine, so very difficult to detect,” she said. “The more awareness there is about human trafficking, the better, so the action plan has, so far, helped along those lines in raising awareness.”
Burditt agreed with Arsenault, saying the action plan will help bring the issue of human trafficking into the public view, which will help people realize the depth of the problem.
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