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The Senate

Motion to Urge the Government to Raise Awareness of the Magnitude of Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking and to Designate February 22 of Each Year as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day--Debate Continued

March 19, 2019


Hon. Gwen Boniface [ + ]

Honourable senators, I know it’s late in the evening and I would like to speak very briefly to this motion and particularly thank Senator Christmas for raising this matter. This issue strikes very close to home for me, not only because of my previous career, but particularly because of events that occurred in my region in the last month. I want to speak to this item because we all need to understand this issue is in our own backyard. We learned that on February 11 this year, when 43 victims of labour human trafficking were freed in the Barrie area.

Deputy commissioner from the O.P.P. Rick Barnum was quoted as saying in the paper saying:

The commodity being sold and bought is people. Human trafficking involves recruitment, transportation and harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, typically in the sex trade, or in this case forced labour. Exploitation is the key element of this offence.

These victims were from extremely vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, and new immigrants. After paying the various fees, these workers were left working in my region with $50 a month. One victim reportedly told investigators:

Last night I went to bed a slave. This morning I woke up a free man.

Honourable senators, Canada can do better. This is a beginning. I encourage all of you to support this motion.

Honourable senators, I also rise in support of the motion made by Senator Christmas, calling on the government to raise awareness of the magnitude of modern day slavery, take steps to combat human trafficking and designate February 22 National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

I also want to thank Senator Christmas and all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking for their work, not just on one day, but year-round to stand against human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Raising awareness about human trafficking requires us to recognize those who are overrepresented among victims and survivors as well as the reasons for this overrepresentation.

As Senator McPhedran and Senator Miville-Dechêne noted yesterday, human trafficking in Canada disproportionately affects Indigenous women and girls. Human trafficking is too often considered a low-risk/high-value business, because traffickers target and prey on those who are most marginalized by sexism, racism, poverty, isolation and past abuses.

Dr. Pam Palmater, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, notes the link between the high rates of apprehensions of Indigenous children by the state and sexual exploitation of Indigenous youth, concluding that Indigenous children in care are “the most vulnerable to abusive foster parents, sexual predators, manipulative traffickers and a society that has long ignored the sexualized violence committed against Indigenous women and girls.”

Sources, including the testimony of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the House of Commons Justice Committee’s report on human trafficking have demonstrated that trafficking is part of a wider crisis of marginalization and victimization of Indigenous women and girls, a crisis that is firmly rooted in our legacy of racism and colonialism. For this reason in particular, as we join together to call upon the government to take steps to combat human trafficking in Canada, it is imperative that we not be limited to criminal justice responses.

The criminal justice system generally has failed to hold accountable those in the upper echelons of trafficking operations. The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking reports that with many trafficking operations, structured as anonymous, numbered companies, law enforcement activities against illicit businesses have too often focused on entering premises and arresting those present but rarely, if ever, the owners. Such operations generally result in the apprehension of the victims of exploitation or low-level managers, some of whom were previously exploited women themselves. Measures such as those advocated by Senator Wetston in his inquiry 47 regarding greater transparency with respect to beneficial ownership are key in order to be able to identify those profiting from trafficking.

More fundamentally, however, trafficking and exploitation, like every other form of violence against women and children, is an issue of inequality. Truly ending human trafficking requires dismantling and remedying the systemic inequalities and discrimination that essentially facilitate such victimization, especially for those who are racialized, who are poor, who have disabilities, who have addictions, who have experienced abuse, who grew up in the care of the state or, as Senator Boniface just identified, come from other countries and who are trying to settle in Canada.

In 1993, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the then-largest national feminist organization with over 700 affiliated groups, formulated the 99 Federal Steps to End Violence Against Women. Those steps were built on the principle that:

Federal government initiatives must reflect the current facts that it is the vulnerability of women and children, particularly aboriginal women, women of colour, women trapped in poverty and women with disabilities that are the definitive factor in preventing this type of crime. Therefore, monies should be allocated directly to ameliorating those conditions.

Strategies that take seriously the need to end violence against women and children have prioritized equitable access to institutions, resources and the legal tools all of us should have available to protect our rights. By implementing measures such as guaranteed livable incomes, free education and better universal access to health care, mental health care, dental health care and pharmacare, we could counter the poverty and marginalization that make women and girls particular targets for sexual exploitation. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action underscore, we must also address the particular and pernicious legacy of colonial violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Honourable colleagues, it is time to stand together against inequality and uphold the human rights of women and girls and all those who are trafficked. It is time to use the tools before us to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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