By Rikki Ratliff, Listen Up TV
Canada’s sex trade industry is a complicated mess. Any time you have humans being actively bought and sold for the purposes of sexual exploitation, things tend to get a little tangled, even scandalous. Especially when it’s happening in your own backyard. A 2008 report by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC) states that “across the country, organized crime networks are actively trafficking Canadian-born women and underage girls inter and intra-provincially, and in some instances to the United States, destined for the sex trade.”
While the images of foreign women in faraway countries holed up in seedy brothels seem morally reprehensible, Canadians should be just as abhorred by images of their own women and children being trafficked within the borders of their True North Strong and Free.
Naomi Baker, from Canada Fights Human Trafficking, says that human trafficking is the fastest growing crime across the globe, with the bulk of the demand stemming from America and Canada. The North American Forum on Integration attributes this to “their more convenient and cheap location, as well as their lax legal and law enforcement systems.” Canada contributes to the demand when, according to the RCMP, 800 to 1,200 people are trafficked here every year, while there are activists placing the number as high as 15,000 annually. But don’t be too quick to place significance on numbers; organizers of the underground crime market make it their fulltime job to stay under the radar and away from traceable statistics. The fact that there is even one sexually trafficked victim within these borders is crime enough.
Challenges to Canada’s Charter on its current prostitution laws muddy the waters surrounding the sex trade further as they open up debate on how to best keep those in the sex trade safe, whether they are there voluntarily or forcibly. And voices crying “women’s rights!” seem to drown out the voices of those who are just … crying.
The conversations swirling around the debate seem less constructive as they pit women against women. But the sound-bite friendly lawyers and sexy dominatrix’s grabbing front page headlines perform an even darker deed. Distraction.
Trisha Baptie, a former prostitute from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, says the argument for striking down the Charter’s provisions on prostitution laws is bogus because it doesn’t actually do anything to ensure women’s safety. She believes that by eliminating all the legal framework surrounding prostitution, we allow capitalism and the free market to be the determining factors of women’s equality. And to those who believe that in theory, legalizing brothels would create a safer environment for women to perform prostitution, Trisha is quick to remind us of the silent market buyers both indoors and out.
“It’s not the location that beat and raped us. It’s not the law that raped us. It’s the men,” says Baptie.
And it’s the men who will flock to Vancouver come the 2010 Olympics. The not-for-profit Christian sector is leading the charge on anti-trafficking campaigns aimed to raise awareness and combat the potential surge in the sex trade that can come with hosting an international sporting event. Campaigns like R.E.E.D.’s Buying Sex Is Not a Sport, and The Salvation Army’s The Truth Isn’t Sexy stem from a biblical conviction to care for the most vulnerable in society. Major Winn Blackman from the Salvation Army warns us against being fooled by the Olympic posturing, however. “We were here before and we’ll be here long after the Olympics are gone,” she says.
Although the Salvation Army recently received flak for controversial images in its campaign, they did succeed in getting Canada to begin talking about its ugly, private family matter. And with the House of Commons recently voting to pass Bill C-268, Canada is on the brink of a further discussion imposing mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of human trafficking. In the past, there have been horror stories of traffickers convicted of selling teenage girls and getting off with a slap on the wrist. A girl’s loss of dignity and innocence reduced to one week in prison. The bill still awaits the Senate’s vote to pass the legislation.
If you’re still not convinced of Canada’s role as a major player in the exploitation market, just ask the brave men and women of the RCMP and regional police services across the country who have created task forces to rescue the victims in the sex trafficking industry.
“We absolutely do have human trafficking and people bought and sold in Canada,” says RCMP Constable Caroline Raymond. “It’s not in a cage like the Hollywood ads. They walk about fully sold, not free. Not sensationalized, just tragic.”
The bottom line is that we live in a culture that still believes you can measure the value of a woman when in fact she is priceless. She has become a menu item decided on over the internet and advertised on websites, next to trivial items like antique clocks and cheap concert tickets.
After the medals have been passed out and the Vancouver Olympics have come and gone, how will Canada rank in the treatment of its own? Who will carry the torch for those that cannot carry it themselves? Whose arms will weaken in caring for its unpopular cause? Whose voice will crack in the awkward silence?