Human trafficking will be on the agenda as Members of Parliament return to Ottawa after a summer break.
That deeply pleases a Conservative MP who has worked for nearly a decade to raise awareness of this growing problem.
“When I first started, people didn’t know about human trafficking, it was under the public radar screen,” said MP Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), who has focused on this issue for nearly a decade. “It’s no longer like that any more.”
Smith has crafted a national action plan to combat human trafficking, that includes recommendations to amend immigration policies to close entry loopholes; a strategy to address the trafficking of aboriginal women and children; a concerted public awareness campaign; and programs to help trafficked persons find healing and a life outside the grip of modern-day slave holders.
Her report, entitled ‘Connecting the Dots.’ proposes a strategy that would involve all levels of government, including First Nations, and involve consultation with non-governmental organizations. Already, cabinet ministers are signaling action on this file.
“The Prime Minister kindly read it and forwarded it on to three different ministries,” said Smith in an interview September 20. “The ministers are doing their piece of it.”
“I was really pleased to see this, under the leadership of our Prime Minister who has a heart for children and a heart for victims of this horrendous crime,” she said. “Under his leadership, the ministers are picking up on these aspects of human trafficking.”
In the proposal, Smith is urging her government to tackle trafficking by changing the laws surrounding prostitution.
Instead of criminalizing solicitation, that often targets underage girls who have been coerced into the sex trade, the Manitoba MP advocates following a Swedish model that criminalizes the demand for prostitution and targets the clients.
“We should be targeting the Johns,” she said. “You take away the market, you take away the crime.”
The Swedish model has been highly successful in reducing human trafficking relative to other European countries, she said.
Many of Smith’s recommendations are supported by CATHII, (Le Comit d’action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale), an action committee against internal and international human trafficking, said CATHII coordinator Louise Dion in an interview from Montreal. The Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) is a CATHII member. But Dion said CATHII did not support some of the recommendations that have a “Conservative” approach.
CATHII supports the Swedish model for combating human trafficking, Dion said. But she stressed Sweden does far more than just impose penalties on clients.
It is not only ‘repressive’ she said, but also includes awareness campaigns so prospective clients will understand the damage buying sex does to women and children. She likened it to campaigns to raise awareness of domestic violence, so that men were educated to understand violence against women is wrong.
Smith agreed, “You need a mixture of both.”
“You have to have the laws to make sure the signal goes out” to human traffickers that we are “not open for business here” in Canada, she said. “We do not buy and sell children” and if you do, you are going to “spend jail time.”
Dion also applauded Smith’s recommendations regarding aboriginal Canadians. “At CATHII we are particularly sensitive about that issue, because we know that most of the internal trafficking involves aboriginal women,” she said.
“It’s important to give victims a way to get out,” said Dion, noting that providing other options for trafficked individuals lessens the ways traffickers can control their lives. Smith agrees there must be money for programs to help victims of trafficking find a new life.