VANCOUVER – Canada is a destination for sex tourists, particularly from the United States, according to the U.S. State Department in its ninth annual State of Trafficking in Persons Report.
Covering 175 countries, the report released Tuesday is available at http:// www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2009/index.htm.
The report says Canada is a source and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Many trafficking victims are from Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine. Asian victims tend to be trafficked more frequently to Vancouver and Western Canada, while Eastern European and Latin American victims are trafficked to Toronto, Montreal, and Eastern Canada, the report states.
It also says Canadian women and girls, many of whom are aboriginal, are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation.
Despite its failings, Canada is among the best in combating what the report refers to as “a modern-day form of slavery.” Only once – in 2003 – did Canada fall to tier two, when it was deemed not to fully comply with even the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.
The fact that Canada is among the best should give people pause. Even though Canadian politicians promised long ago to eliminate exotic dancing from its list of skilled worker categories for immigration because of fears that traffickers were using it as a loophole to legally import women into forced prostitution, 14 permits were issued last year. Fifteen were handed out in 2007 and 22 in 2006.
RCMP estimate between 800 and 2,200 people are trafficked into or through the country each year.
But only five traffickers have ever been convicted and that was last year. Maximum penalties are $1 million and life in prison, but the sentences ranged from two to eight years in jail. Only 31 trafficking victims were identified in the two years ending 2008. Of those, only 15 were given temporary residence permits last year.
The American report notes favourably that Canada has incorporated an anti- trafficking component into its 2010 Olympic security plans. RCMP don’t expect any increase in trafficking prior to or during the Games. That’s supported by research done for the Sex Industry Workers Safety Action Group and paid for by the B.C. government’s Office to Combat to Trafficking in Persons and the Vancouver Police Department.
“The commonly held notion of a link between mega sports events, trafficking in persons and sex work is an unsubstantiated assumption,” it says.
Still, almost everyone expects that one million Olympic visitors will attract more prostitutes. Will they come on their own or be brought/sent/ coerced by pimps? That’s the source of heated debate. What we know is that in 2004 when the Summer Olympics were held in Athens, Greek police found double the number of trafficking victims. The following year, the number dropped 24 per cent.
Was it less demand or less enforcement? No one knows. Like Greece, Vancouver is already a hot spot for trafficking plus it’s a known child-sex tourism destination. Add a million Olympic visitors, increased security, and more awareness, better detection, intervention and prevention of trafficking. If there’s not a huge increase in the detected numbers of trafficking victims and traffickers, Canada really will be failing in its obligations to protect the world’s most vulnerable.