What’s missing in Canada’s anti-trafficking effort?

Is Canada’s anti-trafficking policy heading in the right direction? Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2012 - The Canadian federal government will stop issuing visas to foreigners who work in sex industries starting this month banning visa programs for foreign workers in the sex industry.

The new immigration policy came about because of research by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) showing that organized criminals exploit foreign workers through the visa program, allowing them to work in sex industry.

The Adult Entertainment Association of Canada (AEAC) response to the ban is to announce its plan to recruit high school and college students to fill the demand for sex workers.

The incident raises a question of whether the Canadian government’s new policy is adequately tackling the root cause behind sex trafficking and prostitution in Canada.

Starting this month, The 2010 threat assessment by the RCMP found that Eastern European organized criminals have used visa programs to bring foreign women to work in escort services in the Greater Toronto area. The assessment also suggests organized criminals might have brought foreign women to work in massage parlors and escort services in the Montreal area.

According to the study, the criminal groups exploiting Canada’s lax immigration policy are trans-national. According to the RCMP assessment, these criminal groups showed significant associations with convicted traffickers in other countries including the Czech Republic, Germany, Belarus, and Israel.

However, many business owners in Canada’s sex industry disagree with the findings of the RCMP study. One strip club owner argued that the clubs are a safe place for the exotic dancers. He argued that the new policy hurts the women, rather than helping them.

The AEAC is attempting to reverse the visa ban for foreign exotic dancers. Earlier this week, it announced its plan to recruit sex workers from high school and college campuses in order to fill the gap of foreign workers.

According to the Toronto Sun, AEAC has already put together flyers to show high school and college students the benefits of working as exotic dancers. 

AEAC’s reaction shows that Canada’s new immigration policy fails to tackle the root cause behind the sex trafficking of women and children in Canada. Strip club and other business owners in the sex industry will not stop targeting young women and children as long as there is a demand for their sexual services.

AEAC’s primary interest is to make profits above and beyond any moral responsibility it should have to protect young people in Canada from commercial sexual exploitation.

Yet Canada retains very weak laws when it comes to tackling the real cause behind the sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children; the demand for commercial sexual services.

Canada’s current legislation does not explicitly prohibit the act of buying sex; it only prohibits a person from communicating to buy sex from another person in public. The law does not forbid anyone from using newspapers or the Internet as a communication device to buy or sell commercial sexual services.

Though law enforcement can criminally charge a buyer of sexual services under the communication offence (to solicit a prostitute under the current system), the penalties for that crime are often small. Depending on the gravity of one’s offence, a buyer can face up to six months in jail. In some cases, a buyer faces no charge.

Canada needs a more dynamic approach to combat sex trafficking and prostitution. The new immigration policy to ban foreign women from working in the sex industry was a good step, but authorities must realize that it is just as important to combat the other factors in the commercial sex market, including the demand for sex trafficking and prostitution.

Until then, the battle against sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children will not end. 

Youngbee Dale is a writer, researcher, and human rights advocate. She invites you to join her on Google+Facebook, or Twitter

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Youngbee Dale

Youngbee Dale graduated from Regent University with Master’s degree in International Politics in 2009. While at Regent, she interned at World Bank and co-contributed to a human trafficking publication, “Setting the Captives Free” by Olivia McDonald (2007). She also worked with migrant workers and human trafficking victims in South Korea. Currently, she stays home with her three-month-old son to exercise the divine rights to mother and breastfeed him. 

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