Trafficking in Canada aka the ramblings of a foreign intern

Guest writer for this post is K, a good friend and colleague. She and I were the two in our cohort who focused specifically on human trafficking. She is currently in a practicum in Canada. The following are some of her initial impression.

Also, dear readers of an MSW in Cambodia, please take time to leave a little note for K so that she knows how much her contribution is being appreciated– even if you don’t have answers or comments on her post. It’s kinda fun having a guest over here. I want to encourage it!


Things here are going well. I’m learning a lot about the Canadian system and how they view human trafficking. I’ve had some thoughts and would love your feedback.

First some context:

Canada is basically a Tier Two country. This means that the US gave them a warning that they need to improve or the US will cut off any aid. This has huge implications if your a developing country. If you don’t really care about aid (such as Canada) its a black eye on your reputation. (Some countries like Russia and China don’t really care about either). To get a Tier Two ranking you have to really be doing very little to combat trafficking. In other words, little to no victim rights, poor legislation, little awareness, etc.

Where Canada is at now:

1) Canada has two definitions of trafficking. Yes, two. This creates a problem when you want to charge a criminal and the defense attorney says, “but he didn’t meet definition number 2 and definition number 1 is just plain unconstitutional”. It also makes it difficult to do…well…anything as a policy advocate (aka me).

2) In both of Canada’s definitions you have to have movement to have trafficking. I know this means little to you all, but I’m sure Clare is gasping with horror as she reads this 😉 This basically means that domestic slavery (the enslavement of your own citizens) is exceptionally difficult to prove because it is not unusual, at least in urban areas, for traffickers to not leave the city. For example, a runaway from Toronto is captured by traffickers in Montreal. The traffickers force the girl (who they found in Montreal) into a brothel in Montreal. By their definition, this is not trafficking. It would be anywhere else (well, in most other places). The implications of this is fewer victims rights and less penalty for the perps.

5) the federal age of consent to have sex is 14 years old. This makes sex trafficking of minors (anyone under 18 years of age) difficult if not impossible to prove. Notice how the laws don’t match up (i.e. 14 then 18…think of the two definitions). Also complicating the matter is that prostitution is legal.

Where this leaves me:

I’ve started work on the Alternative Report to the UN. The report is on how Canada is implementing the UN Optional Protocol on the Sale of the Child, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. This is our opportunity to really call the Canadian gov out while also encourage some progress it has made. (for instance acknowledging that holding a child victim of sexual exploitation in police detention with adults is not a good thing). Right now it involves me doing a lot of calling, but its a good opportunity to see the process from beginning to almost end (it will be submitted early Oct I leave end of August so I’ll miss about a month.) I also get to start my calls with “I’m writing a report for the UN” which just makes me feel cool 🙂

Because we’re starting with almost nothing, I’m learning a lot about program development, which I didn’t learn about in school. This is a good thing. Also, we have a huge meeting on Thursday and we’re working our butt off to get everything done. A lot of government officials are coming to the meeting to talk about the rights of child victims. Many seem enthusiastic and are relatively high level. I get to practice my lobbying skills. This will be made even more interesting by the fact that the meeting will be entirely in French and I only speak a word (bonjour everyone, by the way) 🙂

I’m also learning a lot about border control (which is not such an issue in the Midwest). For example, if a guy shows up at the border with 3 kids and just says he’s their uncle (no actual proof of this) the Canadian border control won’t even ask a question. The Canadian government has recently acknowledged this is probably not a good thing (this acknowledgment came about after a report which indicated tons of kids from the US were being trafficked into Canada for sexual purposes). Still, they have indicated a willingness to change which is the beginning. I will hopefully be researching best practices concerning border control and helping write a suggested protocol for investigating suspicious situations. This will be great learning opportunity.

Philosophical Implications:

1) Political navigation – I, as a foreigner, will be researching controversial Canadian issues and writing position papers. How do you incorporate what others believe about power, a victim centered/feminist view point, your own belief system about power, while being sensitive to the fact that the context has changed?

2) Trying to understand people’s confusion on things you think are self explanatory: See the two definitions issues and not asking questions about separated children (A separated child is a kid who is with an adult that is not their legal guardian. See the border example above). How do tell people they are being stupid in a nice, politically savy way? haha 🙂

3) Not making assumptions about welfare policy: I have officially found out that having universal health care and a “liberal” government does not mean diddly squat when it comes to victims rights!

4) The two definitions and requiring movement have really profound implications when it comes to policies and interventions. I’m sure only my social work friends would be interested in this, so I won’t go into it here. BUT, I can see how this would impact all the social workers on this email so drop me a line and we’ll talk shop :-).

Don’t let my points give you the wrong impression. I love my internship. The fact that I have so much to talk about is proof enough.