Human smuggling/trafficking: The trade in people
CBC News Online | April 13, 2006
An infrared camera captures images of people crossing an isolated country road and getting into a van near the B.C.-Washington state border. U.S. immigration officers swoop down and start arresting people.
This night-vision camera catches migrants walking across the Canada-U.S. border. (CBC)
By the time's it's over, close to 60 people trying to sneak into the United States are in custody. So are 14 people accused of taking approximately $35,000 US from each of them to get them from India into Canada and then into the United States.
The arrests were announced April 12, 2006 at the Peace Arch between B.C. and Washington with much fanfare about cross-border co-operation. But the case reveals that the smugglers thought the area was ideal to sneak people into the U.S.
"We haven't determined why they picked Vancouver but there's a large Indian and Pakistani population in Vancouver," assistant U.S attorney Doug Whaley told reporters. "They can be housed there without drawing attention to themselves."
A week earlier, a Vancouver court was hearing evidence in Canada's first prosecution for the international crime of human trafficking. A young Chinese woman alleged she was tricked into going to Vancouver with the offer of a job as a waitress job. When she got there, she said, she was forced to work as a prostitute in a massage parlour.
The RCMP says both types of crimes are growing as more people – unable to emigrate legally – seek ways to get to North America.
What is human smuggling?
It's the illegal movement of people across international borders – usually for a great deal of money.
Canada and the United States share the world's longest undefended border, and it has many gaps where people try to sneak from one country into the other. Often, they have come from someplace else, stay in Canada briefly and then head south to the United States.
Sometimes, smugglers try to sneak migrants into Canada aboard cargo or fishing ships.
There have been several high-profile cases in recent years:
- In November 2000, a boat jammed with 122 Chinese nationals trying to sneak into Canada was found in Nootka Sound, about 300 kilometres northwest of Victoria. They had spent 39 days on the ship and had reportedly paid smugglers $38,000 US to get them into Canada.
- In August 1986, more than 150 Tamils were found in two lifeboats off Newfoundland. They claimed refugee status, and many settled in Montreal and Toronto.
- In 1987, 174 people, most of them Indian Sikhs, waded ashore in a small community in Nova Scotia. Many of them went to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
In another celebrated case, a group of Moldovan women posed as the Moldovan women's underwater hockey team, which was going to take part in the World Underwater Hockey Championships in Calgary in July 2002. They got to Canada but never showed up at the tournament. There was a similar incident two years earlier at the same tournament in Tasmania. That time it was the Moldovan men's team.
What is human trafficking?
Many have called human trafficking a modern form of slavery. According to the RCMP, trafficking in persons is a serious crime that involves:
- The movement of people across or within borders.
- Threats or the use of force, coercion and deception.
- Exploitation, including forced labour, forced prostitution and other forms of servitude.
The United Nations – in its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons – defines it this way:
"Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…"
As well, the UN protocol states that trafficking is a crime even if a person has given their consent to the exploitation.
The UN estimates that 700,000 people are victims of human traffickers around the world each year. The vast majority are women and children. The UN says the global market for human trafficking is worth about $10 billion a year.
The RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Directorate estimates that up to 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the United States each year. Canada is largely a destination and transit country for women who are trafficked for the purposes of exploitation. Most arrive from Asia, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe.
The issue of human trafficking began attracting substantial attention in the late 1990s as concerns grew over what was being called the "white slave trade" as large numbers of women from former communist-bloc states came to North America to work in the sex trade.
What is Canada doing about human trafficking?
On Nov. 25, 2005, the federal government passed legislation that strengthens sections of the Criminal Code dealing with human trafficking. The changes created three new offences that deal specifically with the issue:
- Trafficking in persons: prohibits anyone from taking part in a trafficking operation or helping the operation in any way. The maximum penalty is life in prison.
- Benefiting financially or materially from a trafficking operation: If you receive money or other benefits from human traffickers, you could face 10 years in prison.
- Withholding or destroying documents: destroying ID or travel documents in a trafficking operation carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Which agencies are policing trafficking/smuggling operations?
The RCMP's immigration and passport section employs 184 officers in more than a dozen areas across the country devoted to human trafficking/smuggling. About a third of the officers are based in Ontario.
The Mounties work with local and regional police forces in provinces where the RCMP is not responsible for local policing.
They also work with United States Customs and Border Protection and Interpol.