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Canada’s Dirty Little Secret: The Buying and Selling of Our Youth

A call for a Made-in-Canada solution targeting the market approach to sex trafficking

By Joy Smith Created: February 8, 2013 Last Updated: February 9, 2013
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MP Joy Smith argues that to end human trafficking in Canada, Canadians must go after the market for sex. (Courtesy Joy Smith)

MP Joy Smith argues that to end human trafficking in Canada, Canadians must go after the market for sex. (Courtesy Joy Smith)

Each minute, every sixty seconds, two children are sold into sex trafficking. 1.2 million children are trafficked annually for the purposes of sexual exploitation. This crime, what has become well-known as modern-day slavery, is occurring in every city, town and community in each country across the globe. 

What thoughts come to your mind as you hear the words “sex trafficking”? Many would think this phenomenon only occurs in areas of Southeast Asia, Central or South America and Eastern Europe. “Surely,” they say, “this does not happen in a developed nation such as Canada, which is considered advanced in human rights, democracy and the rule of law…a country built on the precepts of tolerance, acceptance and justice.” 

Yet, as the number of sex trafficking cases continues to rise in Canada, and more victims speak out, it has become a reality that we can no longer ignore.

It is the reality for a young trafficked woman in Montreal, who is now bravely testifying against her pimp, Evgueni Mataev, who forced her to sleep with up to 40 men per night. Mataev is currently on trial for the crimes of human trafficking, pimping and attempted murder. The Montreal Gazette reported that this young woman escaped from her life of abuse after she was forced to shoplift from a local pharmacy. 

It is the reality for another victim, reported in a recent case by CBC News, in North Bay, ON. The victim had the courage to tell a hotel concierge that she was being held against her will. The man was arrested last week in North Bay for drug possession and for living off the avails of prostitution and is now being charged with human trafficking.

Sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar industry, greater than the profits of Nike, Google and Starbucks combined.

—MP Joy Smith

It is also the reality for underage girls who are being targeted for exploitation in Calgary. This week, police arrested two Calgary men and charged them with several criminal charges in relation to prostitution and human trafficking. 

These are just a few instances in a sea of abuse perpetuated upon girls and young women annually who are forced to participate in pornography, dance in strip clubs and sell their bodies in virtually every Canadian city.

Sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar industry, greater than the profits of Nike, Google and Starbucks combined (Source: UN News Centre, International Labour Office). The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) estimates domestic sex traffickers earn an average of $280,000 annually from every victim under their control. 

Unfortunately, trafficking is no different than any other industry, and thus, the laws of supply and demand apply. Men fuel the business of human trafficking by paying for pornography, frequenting strip clubs and soliciting sex with women for profit. As long as there are enormous sums of money to be made from selling sex, there are those who will seek to profit by supplying vulnerable women and girls.

Men fuel the business of human trafficking by paying for pornography, frequenting strip clubs and soliciting sex.

—MP Joy Smith

Recent changes to Canadian legislation have been made. Bill C-49 amended the Criminal Code to specifically prohibit trafficking in persons in Canada. Bill C-268 created a new offence for child trafficking with a five-year mandatory penalty. Bill C-310 allows the Canadian government to prosecute Canadian citizens and permanent residents who engage in trafficking outside of Canada and also enhances the definition of exploitation in the trafficking of persons offence. Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was launched in June 2012. With participation from 18 federal departments, it is a comprehensive blueprint to guide the Government of Canada’s fight against the serious crime of human trafficking. Currently, Motion M-317 is awaiting approval to declare February 22 as Canada’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. 

Although these are all steps in the right direction, Canadians must do more in the fight against this crime. The men and women who prey on innocent victims create a market that buys and sells our youth today in Canada. Men who pay to use the bodies of these young people fuel the profit and demand for this modern day slavery that is happening right here in our own backyards. Countries such as Norway and Sweden have made substantive progress toward eliminating human trafficking by targeting the market, eliminating the demand, supporting victims, and placing the ownership for these crimes on the perpetrators. Will Canadians call for a ‘target the market’ model so that our youth are no longer bought and sold?

Joy Smith is the Member of Parliament for Kildonan – St. Paul, Winnipeg and one of Canada’s leading anti-human trafficking activists.

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