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Fast Forward Weekly In a report released on March 23,
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Human trafficking affects foreign workers: Calgary is a source, destination and transit point
Published March 29, 2012 by Suzy Thompson
Fast Forward Weekly
In a report released on March 23, researchers from Mount Royal University and the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking (ACT) say that Calgary is a source, destination and transit point for human trafficking. Human Trafficking in Calgary: Informing a Localized Response says that women are primarily trafficked from eastern Europe, Asia and within Canada mainly for sexual exploitation, and men from India, Pakistan, Latin America and parts of Africa for labour exploitation. These findings align with an appraisal of human trafficking in Canada conducted in 2009 by the United Nations.
The greatest challenge facing agencies tasked with aiding victims is the scarcity of statistics on trafficking in the region and a widespread ambivalence over the definition of the term. Part of that confusion stems from sensationalistic media images, says the report.
Unlike human smuggling, in which individuals pay to be transported illegally, trafficking is the trade in people against their consent, or with the use of fraud or threats to gain consent.
“The end goal of all cases of human trafficking is exploitation,” says Julie Kaye, a report co-author and ACT Calgary co-ordinator.
Speaking at a public presentation of the report, fellow author Lara Quarterman said the public preconception of trafficking victims is of “Asian women stuck in brothels for forced sex work.” Though this is a regular occurrence, it is not the only scenario. “The grey areas in trafficking are quite large,” said Quarterman.
The consensus among researchers and social service agencies that participated in surveys and focus groups for the study is that in addition to exploitation of women for the sex trade, the trafficking of temporary foreign workers (TFW), mostly male, is especially problematic in Alberta.
Rida Abboud is a University of Toronto PhD student studying conditions for low-skilled temporary foreign workers in Alberta. She explains these types of migrants are susceptible to a range of abuses, including trafficking, due to their insecure position in Canadian society. TFW permits allow holders to only work for one authorized employer, so if problems arise the worker risks deportation if a complaint leads to termination.
“Let’s say they are asked to work longer than they were supposed to, or to take on dangerous work without the training, or they are being demeaned or belittled by a staff person or by their manager. The chances that they speak up are greatly lessened because they worry about being fired,” says Abboud.
“When people have been defined as commodities I think that what ends up happening is the risk of exploiting these people becomes heightened,” she says.
“The idea of the employer saying, ‘I brought you here, you should be grateful.’ Or ‘you’re not Canadian; you don’t know what happens here.’ Those things start bubbling to the surface with people specifically [here] for their value as workers and not as humans.”
Kaye says the temporary foreign worker program is of concern to agencies working with human trafficking issues, but tracking cases is difficult because many victims are too ashamed of having been defrauded and abused to seek help.
“They’re never going to tell people they’re a human trafficking victim,” Kaye says. Instead, she wants social workers and law enforcement to be trained to recognize the signs of trafficking when they come across it.
Alberta currently hosts approximately 65,000 temporary foreign workers, but that number is expected to increase to 100,000 in the near future with an anticipated economic surge. Kaye says the need for that many more people brought here to fulfil a specific, short-term need will likely increase the opportunities for traffickers to take advantage.
The TFW program is federally administered, though the provincial government attempts to monitor workers entering the province on a TFW permit. The RCMP also has a Human Trafficking Awareness branch in each of its six regions. Garry Drummond has been the Human Trafficking Awareness Co-ordinator for the prairie provinces for four years.
He agrees the work of finding and helping potential victims of trafficking for labour is difficult because there are so many workers, and few of them are willing to complain.
“For men, there’s also a lot of shame at having been duped, robbed, coming off as weak,” says Drummond. According to Drummond, temporary foreign workers often think: “I’ll just take it like a man and be abused.”
He is hoping that the case of Rev. John Lipinski, which is currently before the court, will raise awareness of what trafficking in labour looks like. Lipinski, along with his wife and business partner, was charged in June 2011 for bringing 60 people from Poland and the Ukraine to St. Paul, Alta. on fraudulent student visas, and forcing them to work while pocketing $1 million of their pay over six months. They were also allegedly compelled to sign contracts with Lipinski which said they must pay a $25,000 fine and be deported from Canada if they breached the contract. Drummond says he believes this is a clear case of trafficking.
Kaye says ACT wants to develop an awareness campaign about human trafficking for the public and social service agencies. However, she acknowledges obtaining funding for a campaign hinges on presenting statistics on the activity. Without that, vague public perceptions about what it is and how prevalent it is will persist. She says ACT intends to expand this research to Edmonton and areas that draw significant numbers of migrant workers, such as Fort McMurray and Brooks.
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