AT RANDOM: Human trafficking on rise

There is a 24-hour hotline (1-866-677-7267) to report potential victims of the crime

It’s hard to pick what’s the most interesting or tell-tale statistic about human trafficking in Canada.

The fact that victims are recruited in church? The fact that human trafficking, if it hasn’t already, will soon surpass drug trafficking in terms of global profits? The possibility there are human trafficking victims in the Okanagan? That there are 21 million victims of human trafficking every year? That, because it’s hard to prove, there have only been 26 convictions of human trafficking in Canada?

Close to 25 people gathered last week at the Okanagan Regional Library in Vernon to hear a presentation on the offence from Cpl. Jassy Bindra, RCMP investigator and human trafficking co-ordinator for B.C., a position she’s held for three years.

Human trafficking, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada, says anyone who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person for the purpose of exploiting them is guilty of an indictable offence.

Victims could be, for example, a live-in nanny. Or it could be – and this is where it hits close to home – orchard workers logging long days picking fruit.

If the person who provides labour or services by engaging in a conduct that leads them to fear for their safety, the person who caused that fear can be charged with human trafficking.

That part, however, is where frustration lies for law enforcement.

Bindra recounted a story of a woman from Tanzania who worked for a well-to-do family. She was asked if she wanted to go to Canada to “work in a hair salon.” Instead of a salon, the woman worked in a private residence as a live-in caretaker and was paid nothing. Not a cent.

When she came to police attention, her matter was investigated and Bindra thought they had their first case of human trafficking under the criminal code. Crown lawyers said otherwise.

“There was no reasonable fear for safety,” said Bindra, who said there have been 200-plus files where human trafficking charges have been laid.

She uses the example of a pimp. Bindra can arrest the person and charge him with human trafficking, living off the avails, sexual assault, uttering threats. The pimp, she said, will plead guilty to everything else if human trafficking is taken off the table.

“And the court system agrees with that,” said Binda. “It’s easier, cheaper, and the courts are already backed up. Let’s take the sure thing instead of going to trial.”

In her hour-long presentation, Bindra said human trafficking has caught up to the arms race and has nearly surpassed the drug trade in terms of profits. Human trafficking, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), brings in $150 billion annually (or $411 million per day). And, frighteningly, the number could be higher because human trafficking is veiled in secrecy.

“Drug trafficking is high reward but high risk,” said Bindra. “Human trafficking is high reward but low risk because it’s clandestine.”

Scarier still is that figure of 21 million victims annually, also released by the IOM, could be higher. Those are the victims that are known, recruited for work to make a better life for themselves, for self-esteem and recruited in places like schools, malls, the Internet and, yes, even at church.

“A church is a great place for pimps to prey because they do so under the guise of being religious and moral, and good people,” said Bindra. “Would you even think someone who comes to church every week is a pimp?”

In her presentation, Bindra said indicators of human trafficking include a person being escorted or watched; there’s evidence of control over the person; not speaking on their own behalf; no ID, no passport; limited knowledge about how to get around in a community; physical injuries; lack of private space; living at or near the workplace.

There is a 24-hour hotline (1-866-677-7267) to report potential victims of human trafficking.

Bindra’s presentation was sponsored by the library and North Okanagan Shuswap Crime Stoppers Society.