Arnold Viersen is a Conservative Member of Parliament and co-chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking
Today is World Day against Trafficking in Persons. When we hear about human trafficking or modern day slavery, many assume it happens in other countries. But the reality is that human trafficking is growing in Canada and around the world and often takes place within 10 blocks of where we live. While forced labour happens here, many of the human trafficking victims in Canada are young females who are sex trafficked.
Sadly, Canada is falling behind in our efforts to combat human trafficking. Earlier this month, the Walk Free Foundation released a new report: Measurement, Action, Freedom 2019 – an independent assessment of government progress towards measures that eradicate forced labour, and end modern slavery and human trafficking.
Canada didn’t make the top ten countries fighting human trafficking. We didn’t even make the top twenty. Over the past few years, Canada has fallen from 16th to 23rd place when it comes to governmental response.
In fact, the Walk Free Foundation report noted that Canada was one of only three countries in the Americas to decrease their overall government response score, from a 7 to a 6 rating. The report pointed specifically to the expiry in 2016 of Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking with no effort by the Canadian government to replace it.
Further, in June the federal government passed legislation that reduced several human trafficking offences to hybrid offences, meaning that traffickers could walk away with as little as a $5000 fine. We know that Indigenous women and girls make up 50% of sex trafficking victims.
With research showing that courts are more lenient to people who commit violence against Indigenous women and girls, this change will significantly increase the likelihood that a human trafficking offence against an Indigenous woman would likely proceed as a summary conviction offence.
It’s not all bad news though. This past May, the Canadian Center to End Human Trafficking launched a national human trafficking hotline with federal funding. The hotline – 1-833-900-1010 – offers confidential and multilingual service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to connect victims and survivors of sex trafficking and of forced labour with social and emergency services in Canadian communities.
On Parliament Hill, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking celebrated its first year. The APPG has four co-chairs representing each official political party: Senator Dan Christmas (Independent Senators Group), MP Christine Moore (NDP), Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Liberal) and myself representing the Conservatives. As one of the co-chairs, it has been encouraging to see the great work to combat human trafficking that can be accomplished across party lines.
Over the past year, our group has held multiple briefings for Parliamentarians and the public on human trafficking. We have met with anti-human trafficking organizations and law enforcement from across the country.
The APPG also partners with the Allard School of Law’s International Justice and Human Rights Clinic at the University of British Columbia. The clinic has been doing great work to help develop supply chains reporting legislation and critical research on indigenous sex trafficking.
On many international lists, Canada often ranks number one or at least within the top 10. When it comes to ending modern day slavery, it is inexcusable that Canada doesn’t even place in the top 20.
With an upcoming election a few months away, ending modern day slavery and human trafficking should be a ballot box issue. Be sure to ask your local candidates to commit to fighting human trafficking in Canada and abroad. Let’s make Canada the international leader in the fight against modern day slavery.