U.S. tells Canada: Harsher sentences needed for sex traffickers

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Canada has the laws needed to prosecute groups that lure victims from aboard to work in the sex trade, but the penalties dished out by the courts are lax, says a U.S. report on human trafficking.
The annual report issued Tuesday by the U.S. State Department also notes criticism by non-governmental organizations that say there isn't enough communication among law enforcement when it comes to human trafficking.
"Canada's law enforcement efforts reportedly suffer from a lack of co-ordination between the national government and provincial and local authorities, which prosecuted most human trafficking cases."
The report cited Benjamin Perrin, a University of British Columbia law professor and leading expert on human trafficking, as one of nine worldwide "heroes" in the fight against the modern-day form of slavery.
Perrin told a news conference at the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver that the real heroes are the survivors - often young girls - who have had to defend themselves against a system that doesn't recognize the full extent of their suffering.
He said police are aware of a national human trafficking network in Canada and agrees with the report that there's no national action plan to deal with the issue.
Traffickers have been known to prey on young girls in group homes and in one case a female targeted a woman from a shelter, getting her hooked on drugs and putting her to work in the sex trade, Perrin said.
He said aboriginal girls in some parts of Canada are also easy prey, calling the situation "very, very troubling."
"Today I'm calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce that he will enact a national action plan to combat human trafficking to follow up on the measures that his government has already taken," Perrin said.
"It's at this stage that we really need to get serious about this problem to protect victims, prosecute offenders and prevent human trafficking from continuing to flourish in our country."
Perrin said that along with women who are forced to sell themselves in the sex trade, traffickers are coercing foreign men to work as labourers, especially in the Prairies.
In the Toronto area, men from the Philippines have been put to work in horrendous conditions after being duped into thinking they would be employed in other jobs, Perrin said.
"Vancouver police say there are thousands of foreign nationals in the sex trade," he said. "How many of them are here voluntarily, how many of them are here subject to force, fraud, coercion, threats, debt bondage? That is much more difficult for them to identify."
"So clearly a very vulnerable pool of individuals need to get the message that there is help available, that they do have rights in Canada."
In 2006, Perrin's advocacy work and research led the federal government to start granting human trafficking victims temporary residence permits for up to six months, along with medical help.
The top four source countries for victims being recruited to Canada are China, Romania, the Philippines and Moldova, Perrin said, adding that so far, there hasn't been a single conviction involving anyone from overseas.
"That's a really serious omission," he said. "It requires proactive police work as well as support and assistance for victims. . . There's no doubt about that but they clearly need more resources."
The U.S. State Department's report also recommended tougher prosecution of Canadians suspected of committing child sex tourism crimes overseas.
Perrin said he was in Cambodia almost 10 years ago and noticed Canadian men carrying back packs adorned with maple leafs and bragging about their sexual exploits but Canada has failed to take much action to deal with the problem.
"Canada has got a really black eye," he said. In some countries, people with convictions for sex offences are required to notify their government of their intention to travel abroad, but Canada has no such requirement.
Over the past year, five Canadians were convicted under the Criminal Code's provisions against human trafficking, the first convictions since the law went into effect in 2005.

Organizations: U.S. State Department, University of British Columbia, U.S. Consulate

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., VANCOUVER Philippines Toronto China Romania Moldova Cambodia

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