Now You Know

Right now I’m part of a book discussion that meets on Tuesday nights. We’re reading Follow Me to Freedom by Shane Claiborne and John M Perkins. The book is not just about leading well, but following well. After all, “we all begin as followers; and to be good leaders, we have to know how to be good followers,” John writes in the introduction.
The authors say that it’s important for us to have people that we follow, and to choose wisely; to follow men and women of whom we admire the integrity of their lives.
Joy Smith is one of the women that I follow. Joy is a hero to me, and this past Wednesday I had the privilege of sitting in her presence as she spoke out about the underground world of sex trafficking here in Canada.
For those who don’t know, Joy Smith is a Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul in Manitoba (the area where I lived last year) and Canada’s leading anti-trafficking activist. She fought to have the Criminal Code amended to include Bill C-268, a mandatory minimum sentencing of five years for trafficking a minor. The Bill came into effect this month, and so far one person has been charged under it. Until then there was no minimum sentencing for trafficking a minor.

Ben Perrin, named a "hero acting to end modern-day slavery" by Hillary Clinton

Joy hosted the Invisible Chains book launch by assistant professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia and leading expert on human trafficking, Benjamin Perrin. Ben has spent 10 years fighting for the justice of the exploited at home and overseas and dedicated three years to writing Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.

Bill C-268 is an amazing step forward for this nation, but there is still so much that has to happen to protect our most vulnerable. 

You might be wondering why trafficking would happen in Canada. For one thing, our laws are far too lax. Why traffick overseas, where international convictions for trafficking include deception and fraud, when here in Canada a criminal can only be charged if the act is physical? The U.S. law recognizes “the subtle means of coercion used by traffickers to bind their victims into servitude, including psychological coercion, trickery, and the seizure of documents.”

Canada does not. We see this in multiple cases where women and children are lured to Canada from overseas under the pretense of a “better” life, only to have their passports and other documents seized by traffickers.

Laura Emerson is a female sex trafficker who prowled women’s shelters in Ottawa, befriending residents and ultimately luring them into her “business” with the promise that they would be well taken care of. She and partner Gordon Kingsbury kept the girls in a condo in Gatineau, Quebec where they controlled them with assault and regular doses of crack cocaine and forced them to earn between $1000-$2000 daily by performing sex acts. So desperate for freedom, each victim tried to escape their traffickers on various occasions. One victim kept running until she plunged into the frigid Gatineau River, where Emerson caught up to her and beat her severely.

In April 2009 Emerson was charged for trafficking and was sentenced to seven years in prison, the strongest sentence handed down by a Canadian court in a human trafficking case to date. Her counterpart, Kingsbury, was sentenced to three years, which was reduced to 14 months. Upon leaving the courtroom, Kingsbury threatened to kill when he was free. “I have three of them on my list,” he said. Kingsbury will be released any day now.

But it’s not just immigrants and vulnerable persons who are being trafficked. In Vancouver a 19 year old girl who was living at home with her parents fell in love with a guy – who turned out to be a trafficker. Every night where her parents thought she was going to work the evening shift at a restaurant, her boyfriend was selling her for sex along the high track of Vancouver.

The victim’s boyfriend coerced her by threatening to involve her parents if she went to the police. Clearly traffickers have an incredible amount of power over their victims. These are the invisible chains. And considering that British Columbia has not had one conviction of sex trafficking, despite the fact that there are between 30 and 50 active investigations, why would she want to come forward?

Last week in the shadows of Parliament Hill, a 12 year old girl was advertised for sex on Craigslist. This month the Ontario government wrote a letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster to urge him to stop running prostitution ads under the erotic services section of the buy and sell site, which is described as the “Wal-Mart of sex trafficking.” Though this section was recently pulled from the American site, it remains active in Canada. Manitoba followed suit with a letter and Perrin called upon the federal government to take action and confront Craigslist.

These crimes are flourishing because of lack of awareness and lack of collective response. Human trafficking is not a partisan issue. It’s simply wrong. The first step is to be informed. The second step is to do something.

Having heard all this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.

William Wilberforce, speech to Westminster Parliament calling for the abolition of slavery.
May 12, 1789

So now you know. And as I learned from watching G.I. Joe in my formative years, “Knowing is half the battle.”

* Information taken from Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin


2 thoughts on “Now You Know

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