THE MAKING OF A TARGET
Indigenous girls are more likely to suffer from inadequate social support, on reserve or off. For example, infrequent or costly bus service to remote communities leaves some with little choice but to hitchhike for school, services, social visits or shopping, putting them alone, and vulnerable, with adult strangers.
The 2014 study by Public Safety Canada, meanwhile, identified a “clear link” between sex trafficking and a lack of safe, affordable housing, which can lead to overcrowding and couch surfing that sees children seeking shelter with distant relatives and others they barely know.
Another major factor is limited access to education. Because many remote northern communities don’t have high schools, indigenous students often have to leave home when barely in their teens and head to larger centres, where they are billeted or stay with acquaintances.
“They don’t get to go home at the end of the day or on weekends,” says Michele Anderson, a specialist in human trafficking at Toronto-based Covenant House, the largest agency in Canada for homeless youth. “For many, they are being exposed to places like malls for the first time. They are young and impressionable and homesick.”
This can make them easy targets for those offering emotional support and a better life, but whose true motives are much darker.
The hunt for that better life leads many young people to go farther south. “It’s surprising the number of cases we have of girls who have been lured from small communities in the north,” says Ms. Anderson.
“It’s a problem. The traffickers know they are vulnerable, and it’s easy for them to sell the dream, offering them … the great, bright lights in the city.”
She says the sales pitch can begin right at the bus depot. “They wait in the stations as the girls come in from North Bay or Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay.”
Young women from the Far North run much the same risk when they leave home in search of schooling or health care, often in the nation’s capital or Montreal, where police confirm that Inuit girls have been trafficked. But Ms. Anderson says Covenant House has also had Inuit cases in Toronto.
“THE TRAFFICKERS KNOW THEY ARE VULNERABLE, AND IT’S EASY FOR THEM TO SELL THE DREAM, OFFERING THEM … THE GREAT BRIGHT LIGHTS IN THE CITY.”
— MICHELE ANDERSON, A SPECIALIST IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING AT TORONTO-BASED COVENANT HOUSE
Although trafficking occurs across the country, in small towns as well as big cities, experts say there are some well-travelled corridors.
One runs between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, where Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata operates a safe house for trafficked minors, as well as a healing lodge north of the city.
A second corridor runs west from Winnipeg, says Diane Redsky, executive director of the centre (whose Ojibway name translates as “we all work together to help one another”). She says recruiters are so bold that they have lured girls right from the safe house and taken them to Saskatoon, where they were “attempted to be sold for $5,000 each.”
But Ontario is home to the most official cases. Of the 90 cases of human trafficking that had gone through the courts as of August, 39 were from Toronto and another eight from the rest of the Golden Horseshoe, the RCMP says. Of the 180 cases then before courts, more than 90 per cent were from Ontario and Quebec.
Toronto’s Covenant House is opening a new transitional facility for trafficked youth this year, after the number of cases it saw more than doubled, to 46, last year. It says about a quarter of them involved indigenous girls and young women.
It’s unclear exactly how indicative of trafficking patterns these numbers are, however. The level of enforcement varies across the country, as does data collection.
It’s not like “traffickers have a road map,” says Detective Sergeant Thai Truong, who oversees vice and human trafficking in York Region, north of Toronto. They go where the demand is, stay as long as they’re making money and then move on. All the while, they keep the girls isolated, both to avoid detection and because “fresh” ones tend to attract more clients.
Because traffickers follow the money, Alberta has been a favoured destination in recent years, with Calgary and Edmonton long-time hot spots. Secondary routes lead to resource towns, such as Fort McMurray, where young men with cash in hand are far from home.
“The issue has been raised with us … the luring of aboriginal girls and women from reserves, from areas that are very close to these resource-based industries or camps,” says Rosalind Currie, director of the B.C. Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The payoff can vary greatly. Ms. Murphy says that girls in Edmonton are typically given a quota of about $1,000 to $2,000 a night. Those who bring along a friend may have to take in only half that, so “girls wind up recruiting girls” – as a means to protect themselves.
What it takes to meet her quota depends on what a girl has to do. Some johns will pay hundreds – $250 to $350 in Edmonton, says Ms. Murphy. Others may pay as little as $20, and police say women trafficked in Toronto can be forced to service as many as 15 men a day.
Published on February 10, 2016