Shot from The Joy Smith Foundation's "Canada's Secret Shame" documentary trailer about human trafficking in Canada today. Joy Smith Foundation

Human trafficking in Canada documentary could be shown to schools and police nationwide

  • October 28, 2017
OTTAWA – While some progress has been made combating human trafficking in Canada more needs to be done, especially in educating the public, says former MP Joy Smith.

“There is human trafficking in Canada and it happens a block away from where you are sitting,” Smith told more than 150 people attending the screening of a feature-length documentary Human Trafficking: Canada’s Secret Shame produced by the Joy Smith Foundation. Smith hopes to get the documentary shown in schools and at police departments nationwide.

Most human trafficking in Canada involves Canadian women and girls, and the problem disproportionately affects Indigenous communities, panelists said following the Oct. 18 presentation. In addition to luring girls at schools, shopping centres and venues where they hang out, traffickers are increasingly using social media.

“It’s a growth industry and it’s not going away,” said Brian McConaghy, the founder of the Ratanak International and former RCMP forensic expert who participated in the documentary. Traffickers make between $240,000 and $260,000 per victim, per year, according to the documentary.

While many distinguish between trafficking and legal prostitution, McConaghy told the panel that when the entry level for prostitution is 12-13 years old, “there’s an artificial distinction” between child and adult prostitution and how voluntary participation in the sex trade really is.

The Ratanak Foundation fights trafficking in Cambodia, a society traumatized by genocide, thus making it more vulnerable to traffickers, McConaghy said. First Nations communities in Canada exhibit many of the same characteristics of trauma, he added, while urging people to “step into the deep end” and “seek to support First Nations” in finding a solution.

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who co-sponsored the screening with Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Conservative Senator Betty Unger, told the audience she had not been aware Canada’s homegrown trafficking problem until she participated in a 2006 study of the issue by the Status of Women Committee.

Mathyssen said she thought it was a problem elsewhere, perhaps tied to the fall of the Soviet Union.  But when she went home to her London, Ont., riding and consulted with police, she discovered trafficking was “in my neighbourhood.”

The documentary featured testimony from two young women who described how they were groomed and lured by traffickers into sex slavery.  They both described events that began with people they thought were their friends or boyfriends.

Simone Bell, a recovered trafficking victim with Voicefund, a charitable agency to help victims of sexual exploitation, told the panel discussion after the documentary traffickers are using social media such as Facebook to lure victims. They target “vulnerable” young women through their online profiles, she said.

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