Please be advised: the contents of this article discuss the legal processes used to address human trafficking including sex trafficking. Sensitive issues may arise.
Sex trafficking is one of the highest growing crime markets within Ontario, Canada today. Many girls are forced into the sex trafficking business without their knowledge or consent. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common types of crime. Generally, young girls will meet a man at school, the mall, or in a public place who promises them security and a prosperous future. These men tell the girls that they will love them and stay with them as a ploy to convince them to take on odd – at times illegal – jobs in order to integrate into the trafficking market. The initial creation of trust and so-called “love” is one of the factors that makes it hard to get female victims to give a testimony against their alleged trafficker. Of course, this is not always the case; however, it has turned out to be overwhelmingly true for many victims.
Many trafficking cases also involve young girls or boys being abducted or threatened at the initial stages in order to force them into the sex trafficking business. According to the convicted former pimp, Matthew Deiaco, traffickers will bring girls in saying that there is a future for them if the girl is willing to put in her half of the work. A widely held misconception is that the girls were voluntarily going into the trafficking market. Rather, it is actually through coercion and fear that these individuals are forced to stay in this market. The dynamic of fear mongering between pimps and the girls they traffic escalates to incorporate domestic and even sexual assault if girls refuse to comply. Additionally, out of fear of continued abuse, women are scared to testify despite promises by law enforcement to keep them safe. Hence, only 7% of cases are actually heard in Ontario court.
The cross-examination and testifying period within cases are also a brutal experience for victims on top of what they have already had to face. According to the Criminal Code, the definition of human trafficking is based on the fear of the safety of the trafficked individual. This definition fails to recognize the other forms of violence that occur within the trafficking industry. Safety, most notably from the perspectives of the criminal court and law enforcement, is specific to physical harm. However, this excludes psychological harm.
The Palermo Protocol, a United Nations Resolution that addressed the deception, abuse, blackmail, and fraud associated with human trafficking, was adopted in 2000 to complement the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. However, the exclusion of its broader definition of human trafficking in the Canadian Criminal Code contributes to the low level of trials and convictions related to this crime. The Canadian government has found that trafficking case settlements require paying reparations to compensate for the pain that individuals have to endure including mental, emotional, and physical pain.
The Canadian criminal code insists that the element of fear is a necessary proof to convict traffickers. However, not only is fear subjective, it also stems from sources beyond the experience of being trafficked. The fear of retaliation, for example, keeps individuals from coming forward or cooperating with law enforcement and the courts. This retaliation comes in many forms, including threats to the safety of victims and their families, which is used to scare victims into silence. Though there are support workers and organizations that work with trafficked individuals to guide them through the conviction process, more support and policy reforms are necessary to minimize the harm accrued throughout the process to protect individuals from their traffickers and to encourage more victims to come forward.
It is clear that Canadian legislation is flawed in addressing sex trafficking and holding perpetrators accountable. For example, failing to prioritize cases in accordance with the 2-year period of indictment allows traffickers to walk away without being convicted. Additionally, evidence suggests that the government does not provide the trafficked individuals with any support system throughout the conviction process. This further exposes them to trauma, psychological, and potentially physical harm. Furthermore, trafficked individuals often have to rely on public defenders who may or may not be well-versed in the experiences of trafficked individuals or in the risks and dangers they face. In the case of sex trafficking crimes, public defenders will often approach cases with social preconceptions about their character, their abilities, and their status as victims. This lack of support, and in some cases, antagonistic approaches within the legal field, not only re-traumatizes victims but contributes to a culture of silence and non-reporting. This, in addition to the fact that each trafficking case costs between $1.1-$1.6 million to compensate trafficked individuals, accounts for the difficulties faced by victims and advocates to bring more cases forward and tried.
Canada currently has no national body that is coordinating efforts to stop this market. There is no data system in place to gather and compile evidence on the cases. However, the government has allotted $1.9 million dollars per year on an enforcement team to combat the trafficking market. Despite this, the high cost of each trafficking case, which includes the trafficked victims pain, loss of education, health care, and loss of earnings, brings to question the sufficiency of these funds. It is our responsibility to urge the government to change the legislation, aid, and support that is provided and to address human trafficking in Canada more proactively and definitively.