June 20th, 2024

Human trafficking a growing problem in Alberta

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on April 22, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Human trafficking won’t end until everyone works together to solve the problem, the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs was told on Thursday.

“We’re not going to defeat this crime, we’re not going to overcome this crime unless we work together,” said Jessica Brandon, director of programs for the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta (ACT).

Brandon, who has 15 years of advocacy experience with a strong focus on human rights, addressed the types of human trafficking and some of the signs that a person is being trafficked for work or sexual exploitation.

“When in doubt, please feel free to refer a client to us. Please feel free to call us. We have registered social workers who are specialized in human trafficking, anti-human trafficking work on staff to work with clients in addressing their needs and coordinating services with other stakeholders. We provide direct case management, safety planning, guidance of the criminal justice system and court system. “We also provide counselling, therapy, immigration advocacy….. health care and addictions support, transport and relocation,” said Brandon.

ACT Alberta also has a victims assistance fund so when you donate “that money goes directly to trafficking survivors so perhaps that’s paying for a counselling session, perhaps that’s paying for a plane ticket home,” said Brandon.

“Safety planning is probably the most important piece of the case management that we do and really involving our community partners who can help out. It takes a village helping someone who has experienced trafficking.”

Brandon also provided the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-833-900-1010 for people to call who are a victim of trafficking or if someone has concerns about it.

People in southern Alberta can also call 587-585-5236 for support services from ACT Alberta.

Canada has legislation against human trafficking in the Criminal Code and the Immigration & Refugee Protection Act, said Brandon.

“You never know where you might see it,” said Brandon who listed four case studies of traffickers who were held accountable for their behaviours.

One Alberta woman exploited 71 foreign nationals as kitchen staff, commercial cleaners and printers/distributors. A couple exploited seven foreign nationals for their labour at the Econo Lodge in Red Deer.

She told how another woman drugged and exploited her female roommate and forced another woman into commercial sex work, while the leader of a drug trafficking network forced two women into commercial sex work.

Statistics on labour trafficking are hard to come by in Canada, she said, but that is soon to change.

She also said “when it comes to human trafficking there are certain data limitations like for instance who has access to the hotline numbers, do they have a phone, do they have access to any type of communication to the outside world at all. Who has the means to self identify as a trafficking victim and who has the means to reach out or even be reported to have the opportunity to be reported by law enforcement or a service provider. With stats just please remember that the numbers you might see out there, they’re never really certain,” she said.

“Individuals may be vulnerable and are likely vulnerable if they need a place to stay, a place to work or even just wanting to provide for their family. These can really be things that employers or traffickers take advantage of. They are looking to exploit vulnerable persons, they know how to do it,” said Brandon.

“We’re not really talking about people bound in chains, we’re not really talking about physical abuse or being thrown into the back of a windowless van. We’re talking about more subtle forms of control such as using threats of deportation – that’s a huge one, the restriction of a worker’s movement, confiscating their passport – we’ve heard so many of our trafficking clients talk to us about not having access to their passport…it’s very manipulative and often we hear about it where it’s demanding that people perform work that’s different from their employment contract. And because they’re there and because for the most part they’re migrants and newcomers, they’re often subject to that economic abuse like wage theft, labour violations such as working excessive hours or blatant health and safety violations,” said Brandon.

Other labour trafficking signs include:

* unknowingly working on the wrong visa;

* lives where they work; can’t choose where to live;

* fear of supervisor or employer;

* owes employer money and can’t pay it back;

* abnormal work hours, no breaks, vacation or overtime pay.

* multiple people living in substandard space.

Signs of sex trafficking include:

* made to engage in commercial sex or sexual servitude;

* tattoos or branding of ownership;

* no choice in clients;

* frequently moved around to different locations;

* made to earn a certain amount of money and punished if quota isn’t met;

* made to engage in sexual activity while menstruating;

* no agency in condom use.

For minors, these are also signs:

* much older or overbearing partner;

* excess amount of cash/new expensive possessions;

* engaging in advance sexual behaviours or knowledge.

Other signs a person is being trafficked include:

* submissive or fearful/avoids eye contact;

* scripted or inconsistent responses; unable to speak for themselves;

* signs of physical abuse/isoaltion;

* few personal belongings;

* inappropriately dressed for venue or weather;

* no access to wages/ significant deductions;

* controlled and frequent movement;

* dramatic personality changes;

* unstable home life.

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