Sr. Imelda Poole warns of the rise in trafficking. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Canada a primary target for human trafficking, says expert

  • May 24, 2017

Human trafficking has become a billion-dollar industry that is projected to overtake arms sales as the most lucrative illegal business in the world, said international expert Sr. Imelda Poole.

“At the moment it is second but it is rapidly overtaking guns and arms and it has already overtaken drugs,” said Poole. “Many drug traffickers are now human traffickers because they are getting more money and it is more clandestine — they are not caught as much.”

Poole, a British member of the Loretto Sisters, is president of an organization called Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE).  She has worked 11 years in Albania and currently heads up Mary Ward Loretto, a non-profit organization which deals with human trafficking prevention and advocacy.

Speaking May 18 at the Mary Ward Centre in Toronto, Poole said Canada has become a primary destination for victims of human trafficking in spite of various initiatives to combat the illegal trade.

“Despite the high level of trafficking that we know is happening, here you are a tier one country … which means you’re trying to make a big effort to combat human trafficking, but it doesn’t mean that you are squeaky clean,” she said.

Poole was in Canada the same day that Ontario passed the Anti-Human Trafficking Act. Ontario accounts for 69 per cent of reported human trafficking crimes in Canada, according to 2014 data. About 70 per cent of these cases involve sexual exploitation.

The Anti-Human Trafficking Act enables victims or potential victims of human trafficking to obtain restraining orders and also provides a means for victims to sue traffickers for compensation to rebuild their lives. The act also establishes Feb. 22 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Ann McGowan, director of  Toronto’s Mary Ward Centre, is generally encouraged by the new law but says it fails to address the underlying issues which lead to humans being trafficked.

“This new legislation does nothing to address the root causes that create vulnerabilities to being trafficked or a context that creates trafficking,” she said.

Those issues are expected to come up at the long-awaited federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Despite delays and controversy which have made it unlikely the commission will meet its report deadline of November 2018, the inquiry will begin May 29 in Whitehorse.

It will investigate the deaths and disappearance of more than 1,200 female indigenous who went missing over several decades. Human trafficking is not believed to be a factor in most of the cases, but to what extent it was involved is unknown and the inquiry is expected to address that issue.

 A possible outcome Poole hopes to see is that by engaging in a national conversation the stigma attached to victims will be reduced.

“The stigma of being trafficked is huge,” she said, adding that it often gets in the way of recovery and reconciliation.

Although human trafficking is primarily about women being sexually exploited, Poole has seen a rise in male victims being trafficked for labour.

“Often people only talk about sex trafficking, but I have to say that in my experience right across Europe the number of men being trafficked is going up,” she said. “Nevertheless 60-plus per cent of trafficked people are trafficked into the sex industry still and nearly 70 per cent are woman. Sex trafficking you’ll find in every city of the world.”

Poole said the majority of these women endure “physical and sexual violence” requiring significant rehabilitation.

“It is important you look at the physical consequences of human trafficking,” she said. “Often they come into a shelter in that sort of almost out-of-mind situation where they are in post-trauma and they can’t really talk about their experience itself because many of them would have disassociated. They have physical symptoms, psychological symptoms (and) maybe they have to come off drugs because of the abuse that they’ve gone through and trust is a huge issue — who can you trust after that.”

In the Albanian shelter where she works, Poole takes a pastoral approach to rehabilitation.

“Pastoral care of course is part of the rehabilitation process,” she said. “As we journey with these people (we remind them that) ... they are in the heart of God who loves and cares for them despite the injustice.”

 The root of that injustice is an imbalance created by capitalism, Poole said.

“It is generally agreed around the world that the explosion of this terrible crime is based on the roots that come forth from this misuse of finance and power,” she said. “Every trafficked person comes from some kind of vulnerable situation that arises mainly from this explosion and overwhelming imbalance. ”

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