OTTAWA — The RCMP say criminal groups exploit Canada’s visa policies to get foreign workers into the illegal sex business — a worrisome element of the global people-trafficking trade.
A new report by the Mounties says the groups have taken advantage of the fact that people from Israel, Estonia, Latvia and South Korea don’t need certain travel documents to enter Canada.
The criminal intelligence report released Monday provides a glimpse into a shadowy and often little understood world where the vulnerable effectively become slaves to those who use them for profit.
“Human trafficking is a crime that thrives in stigmatized facets of the work force, like the sex trade and illegal labour, and hides in the privacy of homes and businesses,” the report says.
It differentiates the crime from human smuggling, the act of transporting someone across a border for profit — a transaction that ends upon person’s arrival.
The report, completed in March, says police are investigating more human trafficking cases, and awareness efforts have helped dispel myths.
“As law enforcement gains an increasing appreciation and familiarity of the dynamics at play in human-trafficking investigations, it is possible that more charges will follow.”
In early 2008, after visa requirements for Latvian citizens were lifted, authorities uncovered a plan to use fake passports from that country to bring migrant sex workers to Canada.
The use of fraudulent or altered travel documents to ease the entry of Eastern European women was consistently reported in human trafficking investigations, the report notes.
“The access to quality fraudulent travel documents may indicate the expanse and sophistication of criminal networks.”
Trafficking also occurs within Canada.
An analysis of homegrown charges and convictions found that young females were being trafficked into the sex business for “exponential profit” by criminals acting as pimps.
“Domestic human trafficking victims have mostly been recruited through the Internet or by an acquaintance,” the RCMP says. “The victims were groomed, manipulated, and coerced to enter the sex trade.”
Many trafficked in Canada were forced to prostitute themselves in massage parlours and escort services, but mostly in exotic dance clubs.
Newcomers to Canada who join the illegal sex trade are vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked, the Mounties say.
“Investigations have found that women may have been recruited knowing that they would be engaged in the sex trade or were wholly deceived but most women were subjected to varying degrees of threat and coercion after they began employment,” the report concludes.
“Some escorts reported that their true passports were confiscated by their employers and they were obligated to repay the cost of their travel from Europe before they could be released.”
Both foreign and Canadian women who work as prostitutes in bawdy houses operated by Asian organized crime groups may be subject to “coercion, violence, and excessive control.”
Police also suspect traffickers prey on some workers’ drug addictions as a means of recruiting and controlling them.
From 2007 through November last year, five people had been found guilty of human trafficking in Canada. The cases involved 11 female victims, four of whom were under 18 at the time, the report says.
However, trying to persuade a victim to become a witness in a case “can be volatile and intense.”
Many are fearful of speaking out while some are generally wary of police.
While progress has been made in the fight against human trafficking, the report says intelligence gaps, insufficient resources and a lingering lack of awareness remain problems.