Sunday, March 1, 2009
'A fundamental assault on liberties' - Canada not immune to illicit trade
By Florence Loyie, The Edmonton Journal
February 25, 2009
LINK: 'A fundamental assault on liberties' - Canada not immune to illicit trade
Just out of sight and mostly out of mind, traffickers make billions each year buying and selling something far more valuable than diamonds, gold or microprocessors, than insider stock tips or international state secrets.
Theirs is a black market some experts think could one day overtake drug trafficking and become, after arms dealing, the second-most profitable criminal activity on the planet.
The commodities on sale in this violent underworld, every day, everywhere? People.
The United Nations estimates that human trafficking generates up to $32 billion in illegal profits every year.
The International Labour Organization estimates there are between two and four million victims worldwide at any time. Eighty per cent of them are female and 50 per cent are under 18.
"You talk about human rights," says Joy Smith, a Conservative MP from Manitoba and the vice-chair of Parliament's standing committee on the status of women. "This is the ultimate human-rights issue of our time."
The RCMP estimates that 800 to 1,200 people in Canada have been victims of human trafficking, but some non-governmental organizations peg the figure as high as 15,000. An additional 1,500 to 2,200 people are trafficked annually from Canada into the United States, police believe.
The U.S. Department of State's recent annual Trafficking in Persons report pegs Canada as a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour.
Smith has worked for years on the issue of human trafficking in Canada, Ukraine and Israel. "This is a growing problem in Canada," she says. "We don't know how many foreign victims are here, and Canadians are being victimized as well."
More needs to be done to educate the public and politicians about the impact of human trafficking, Smith says.
"We could do more to ensure traffickers are convicted and punished. We have the laws, but the onus is on the courts and prosecutors to make sure we have the evidence to follow through on convictions. And that just doesn't seem to happen."
Victims of human trafficking are tricked or lured by deception or physical force into captivity. Traffickers will use empty promises, lies, feigned love, intimidation, debt bondage, isolation, threats, physical and sexual abuse, starvation and even the force-feeding of drugs to control their victims.
It is a clandestine and violent world where victims are sold as chattel and discarded like rubbish or killed once they are no longer useful.
"There are aboriginal children who are being victimized," Smith says. "So-called friends will go to the reserves and talk to them. They will say come back to the city and they will get them a job. When they come to the city, sometimes their language is limited or they don't have city smarts, if you want to put it that way. They don't know how to protect themselves and they are forced into the sex trade. They are held as virtual prisoners."
Glendene Grant has believed for more than two years that her eldest daughter was a victim of human trafficking.
It's been almost three years since Jessica Edith Louise Foster last made contact with her family. Her mother has been on a desperate search ever since.
She created and maintains a website devoted to her search and has done dozens of newspaper interviews and been on several American talk shows to raise awareness about her daughter's disappearance. From her home in Kamloops, B.C., she surfs the Internet for information on human trafficking and for allies in her cause. There are days when she fears that her daughter may already be in a shallow grave somewhere in the vast desert surrounding Las Vegas.
Grant thinks the way her daughter ended up in Las Vegas working as a high-priced escort is a textbook example of human trafficking.
In June 1987, Glendene Grant and her husband, Dwight Foster, divorced and Grant and her daughters moved from Calgary back to Kamloops, where she had grown up. When Jessica was 16, she moved back to Calgary to live with her father.
The teenager earned top marks all through high school, her mother says. After graduating, she got an apartment and worked two jobs to support herself.
In the spring of 2005, Jessica moved back to Kamloops to help her mother with her younger sister. Around then, Jessica began getting phone calls from a man named Donald, whom she knew from her high school days.
"During one of her conversations with him, Donald asked her if she wanted to go on a short trip with him to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit his mother," Grant says. "We have since learned his mother lives in Edmonton."
Grant says she wasn't overly concerned at the time but did ask if the friend might not want something in return. Jessica assured her that wasn't the case, and came back a few days later with pictures from her fun-filled trip.
A few weeks later, Donald called to invite Jessica on a trip to New York City, followed by a quick jaunt to Atlantic City.
Grant said she had a bad feeling about the trip, but could do nothing to stop her 20-year-old daughter. Jessica assured her she would only be gone a few days.
But she never made it home. Instead, she somehow ended up in Las Vegas.
"I think Jessie was probably tricked," Grant says. "Initially taken on these fun trips and then taken down there and, just like in the movies, given an IOU -- 'I took you on these trips and now you owe us.'
"When you look at the very first trip, there are pictures of Jessie on a big boat, Jessie para-sailing and jumping on a trampoline in the middle of the Atlantic. She is grinning ear to ear. A later picture taken on the trip to New York, Jessie's eyes are different -- they are not my kid's eyes. Jessie never did drugs, didn't even dabble. She never even smoked cigarettes."
Jessica got engaged to a man named Peter. She told her family Peter was a trust fund baby from a wealthy family and had enough money that she didn't have to work. He lived in a $3.5-million home in Las Vegas, owned several expensive vehicles and fancied all-night parties. Jessica kept in almost daily contact with her family through text messages or phone calls. She admitted to her mother that she and Peter sometimes had violent arguments.
Grant says a private investigator later discovered that over the course of the year before she disappeared, Jessica had been arrested five times for prostitution and once was so severely beaten she ended up in the hospital.
On March 28, 2006, Jessica talked to her older sister by telephone. It was her last contact with her family.
On April 9, Grant contacted Peter, who told her Jessica had left him the week before, taking all her belongings, except her makeup and hair dryer.
"Jessie was the type of girl who wore makeup even if she was just doing something casual," Grant says. "She just wouldn't leave her makeup and hair dryer behind if she went willingly."
She called the RCMP and Las Vegas police to report her daughter missing, and that day began her own search.
Peter was interviewed twice by Las Vegas police, but there was no evidence linking him to Jessica's disappearance.
Edmonton police say they are investigating several suspected human trafficking rings targeting vulnerable young Albertans, many of whom are forced into the sex trade in Las Vegas.
While police won't go into specifics, they say they have seen an increase in traffickers or recruiters using social-networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace to troll for victims.
"People, mostly woman, but some men, sadly have become a commodity that some gangs are putting on the shelf," says Staff Sgt. Kevin Galvin, head of the department's organized crime branch and gang unit.
"There is a lot of grooming that happens on social-networking sites," he says.
A recruiter will start up an online relationship, presenting himself as a high-roller with access to VIP rooms at nightclubs, expensive restaurants, drugs and all-night parties. He may appeal to a woman's vanity and tell her he can help her become a model or a singing star. There might even be a free trip or two.
But soon the party ends, and it's payback time. One night the young woman will be invited to a private party, where its a room full of men and herself, perhaps another girl or two. She will be told what is expected. If she resists, she will be gang raped and beaten. She will be threatened with death if she goes to the police. Her family will be threatened as well.
The victim is usually taken to another city, where she is further groomed for her new role, often by another woman. Then she will be taken over the border, usually to Las Vegas, where she will be used as a high-priced escort.
Or she might be moved from one Canadian city to another on a circuit of bawdy houses or massage parlours. Fear and embarrassment will likely keep her from telling her family.
Two years ago, vice detective Jim Morrissey was Edmonton's one-man human trafficking investigation unit, until the administration decided to reassign him.
It's not that his bosses think human trafficking is not a serious crime, says Morrissey. "My administrators made the decision that no municipal police force is really able to investigate human trafficking cases very well. We can handle a little piece of what is happening in our jurisdiction, but they are never a localized phenomenon, by their very nature. They travel the breadth of Canada. They travel over international borders."
The RCMP is mandated to deal with human trafficking, but they rely on municipal police investigators to identify victims. Like other major Canadian cities, Edmonton has international criminal rings running trafficked women through at any given time, says Morrissey. The problem is determining who is really a victim, Canadian or foreign.
"If she doesn't talk, or can't talk to me, or is afraid of me and won't tell anyone she was, in fact, trafficked, we'll just deport her and let the bad guys go," he says.
The other problem is that trafficked women never stay around long. They are usually moved every few weeks.
Last June, the federal government increased the temporary resident permits for foreign trafficking victims from 120 to 180 days.
During this 180 days, immigration officials determine whether a residency period of up to three years should be granted. Trafficking victims may apply for work permits, an option previously unavailable under Canadian law. Only four temporary resident permits were issued in 2007.
Foreign victims also have access to free medical care, dental care and counselling. Victim support services fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction and do not all follow the same model.
Alberta is rewriting its victim support manual to include a module on human trafficking victims, said Carol Lemieux, a manager in victims programs for the Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security Department.
"Foreign victims may arrive with language barriers or they may have no identification or travel documents, so these are things support groups need to overcome," Lemieux says.
Sherilynn Trompetter, with the Alberta Coalition on Human Trafficking, says her group hopes to soon start training victim services volunteers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lac La Biche, Fort McMurray, Brooks, Airdrie, Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
"We can't have a blanket solution for the entire province because the situation in Fort McMurray may look very different from Brooks, where you have a lot of people from Sudan," she says.
Crime Stoppers of Edmonton and northern Alberta recently produced two educational clips on human trafficking with Morrissey.
Executive director Flavia Robles said the 90-second clips are aimed at educating young Albertans, primarily girls, about how to protect themselves from human traffickers or pimps.
"You don't think it happens here, but it actually does," Robles says. "We really need to reach out to our youth, particularly girls, on how it happens and how to protect themselves and how drugs and gangs will get you there."
Benjamin Perrin, founder of the Calgary-based The Future Group, a non-government organization dedicated to combating human trafficking and the child sex trade, says most Canadians have no idea how bad the problem is in Canada. In 2003, a Calgary police investigation of bawdy houses called Operation Relaxation exposed a human-trafficking network that forced city officials to re-examine how they license massage parlours and the women who work in them, he says.
"Trafficking is essentially a new label for a very old form of exploitation," says Perrin, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law and one of Canada's leading experts on human trafficking.
"People often have a vision in their minds of people being shipped in containers and locked away. Those extreme forms of trafficking do happen, and we find cases of fairly severe physical and sexual abuse and forcible confinement. But the modus operandi of Canadian traffickers is to use psychological manipulation or coercion."
Canadian traffickers run the gamut from street-gang thugs to organized criminal networks, he says.
Perrin, who is writing a book on human trafficking in Canada, says he expects traffickers to flock to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, since the crime has been linked to past major international sporting events.
Last November, his group released a 25-page report entitled "Faster, Higher, Stronger: Preventing Human Trafficking at the 2010 Olympics," which outlines measures taken by host countries of recent international sporting events.
The report found that at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany there was a short-term increase in demand for prostitutes, but that extensive prevention campaigns, immigration controls and law-enforcement action likely prevented traffickers from filling that demand.
"It is disturbing to realize there are people who view other people as nothing more than a commodity to be bartered, Perrin says. "This issue for me is the most fundamental assault on human liberties that I have ever come into contact with."
- A typical trafficker relocates his victims every 15 to 30 days.
- Most traffickers are the same nationality as their victims and have no criminal records.
- Trafficked people are most often forced into the sex trade or into work in construction, agriculture or the erotic entertainment industry.
- A foreign trafficking victim's journey from their country of origin into North America can take up to two years and can involve stops in up to eight countries.
Source: RCMP Gazette Magazine