Rise in human trafficking largely unnoticed in Canada, experts say

Human traffickers peddle young girls to work as sex slaves in Canadian cities for as little as $2,000 – a situation most people believe only happens in foreign lands, activists say.

An increase in human trafficking in Canada has gone largely unnoticed because Canadians think young girls choose to take up the sex trade, according to Joy Smith, a Conservative MP and longtime anti-trafficking activist.

“There are girls being sold in Montreal for $2,000,” Smith said.

International observers have described human trafficking as one of the world’s fastest growing crimes, a phenomenon Canada has not escaped.

“This is Canada’s best-kept secret and it’s a shameful secret,” said Smith.

Smith will be the keynote speaker at a four-day human trafficking conference that begins in Montreal on Thursday.

The UN estimates 2.5 million people from 127 countries have been shuttled around the world for various forms of servitude, including forced labour and the removal of organs.

It’s an industry thought to be worth billions of dollars.

The RCMP believes 800 to 1,200 people in Canada have been victims of human trafficking, though some activists peg the figure as high as 15,000.

“This is a rising crime in Canada,” Smith said.

She pointed out that many dismiss the scope of the problem by claiming sex slaves, who are mainly women, chose to become prostitutes.

“A lot of the girls in brothels never meant to be in brothels,” Smith said. “They got there because somebody threatened them and forced them into it.”

Activists maintain that dispelling myths about human trafficking is crucial to developing more effective policies.

“A lot of people don’t see the problem because they don’t want to see it,” said Michael Cory Davis, an American actor and filmmaker who will be screening his recent documentary on human trafficking at the conference.

“For anyone who says ‘This doesn’t affect me,’ all they need to do is to Google ‘Montreal,’ ‘escort service’ and ‘young girls’.”

Davis was given unique insight into the underbelly of the slave market while shooting a movie several year ago in Bulgaria.

Granted instant celebrity status thanks to appearances on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” – much loved by Bulgarians – Davis was often approached by pimps hawking young girls.

He used his high profile to learn more about the system that turns girls into sex slaves, often touring Bulgarian orphanages to hear their stories first-hand.

Along with his documentary Cargo: Innocence Lost, he has made a 40-minute film about a 13-year-old girl’s abduction as well as educational movies for the FBI.

Davis is now trying to widen his audience through a series of commercials that will air later this year.

“If you let this fester it will become a disgusting open wound because every young child becomes vulnerable,” he said.

Smith acknowledged tougher laws and more policing can make a difference. But first there needs to be a critical mass of people unwilling to let the issue drop from the public’s radar.

“Our best defence against this horrendous crime is education,” she said. “The public needs to know about it.”



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