Friday, May 7, 2010
Human trafficking in Winnipeg targeted
Human trafficking doesn't just happen overseas, its victims may be the kid standing on the street corner or a woman working at a strip club right here in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas, who ran the missing persons unit until recently, said predators ensnare high-risk youths. The unit assigns officers to work with runaways and those who frequently go missing.
Chrismas said there's a Hollywood perception of people being loaded into cube vans and carried surreptitiously across the border. But it involves people targeted within their own country, such as youth from remote communities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan who move to cities such as Winnipeg.
He said children in care are especially vulnerable, and some are "deliberately groomed."
"A lot of these kids are being lost in the system and becoming vulnerable to be exploited," he said.
"In a broad sense of the term trafficking, it catches what's happening to these kids, they're being socially isolated... there are people out there who lure and harbour and take advantage of youth who are on the fringe."
The RCMP says there's a difference between human smuggling, which focuses on the illegal transport of people across international borders, and human trafficking, which means a predator exploits a victim for sex, labour or other benefits. Under the Criminal Code, trafficking is defined as "a person (who) exploits another person if they cause the victim to provide or labour or service for fear of their safety or the safety of someone known to them."
The charge was added to the Criminal Code in 2005. Manitoba Justice said no trafficking charges have been laid in the province.
Chrismas said police here haven't encountered organized networks trafficking such victims but officers suspect there are individual cases where trafficking has occurred.
On Saturday, a march will take place at the Manitoba legislature to publicize the plight of human trafficking victims.
Tory back-bench MP Joy Smith is organizing the event.
She said a typical scenario involves a person who will try to separate a girl from her social networks in a ploy to force her into the sex trade. In other cases, traffickers entice women to Canada and then steal their identification, pushing them to work.
She said in Winnipeg, aboriginal people are disproportionately targeted by traffickers.
"People don't understand when they see kids standing on the corner... they don't realize the kids didn't make this choice, they were lured and manipulated into it, for the most part," she said.
Smith has sponsored a private member's bill calling for a minimum of five years in prison for people convicted of trafficking minors.