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Fact check: Harper's 'human trafficking' plan will do nothing to curb violence against women

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25th Annual Feb 14th Women’s Memorial March, Vancouver

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The claim: the Conservatives will "stand up for victims" by fighting human trafficking

Stephen Harper announced that his government, if re-elected would continue to combat human trafficking. They'll do this by creating special RCMP human trafficking teams in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, doubling the money currently available for victims of human trafficking and declaring Feb. 22 human trafficking awareness day.

They would also extend their Human Trafficking Action Plan for five more years, which will cost at least $30 million dollars. Of this money, $5.4 million annually is given to the RCMP or Canada Boarder Services Agency, $140,000 to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and "up to" $500,000 is dispensed to "Enhanced Victim Services."

That's right: at most, only eight per cent of the Human Trafficking Action Plan money actually goes to help victims. And, of that eight per cent, it's likely that at least some of it is going back to police, like this $75,000 grant given through the Department of Justice to the Calgary Police to help "those wishing to exit prostitution."

Human trafficking is political gold for Conservatives. Few can argue with saving girls from forced sexual exploitation. But journalists and politicians alike are guilty of playing loose with the facts. This can boost the outrage and alarm that is elicited from these stories.

In October 2014, the Canadian Press reported that 18 women were rescued from human trafficking. During the investigation, 31 sex trade workers were interviewed (10 were under the age of 18, or nine, depending on which article you read) and 18 were "saved." The Toronto Sun called the investigation a "teen prostitution probe" despite the fact that the average age of the people interviewed was 26. An erroneous report said that among the victims was a 12-year-old Winnipeg girl. This error made its way into the original Toronto Star headline.

And, while the arrests get lots of attention, few people notice that the conviction rates for human traffickers remains very low.

It's a reminder that such salacious stories of abuse might make for good politics, but are always more complicated. In the case of the 2014 probe, of the charges laid against the nine people, only one was related to trafficking in persons. The other charges were related to other crimes: making and distributing child pornography, forcible confinement, uttering threats, assault and obstructing police.

Human trafficking has been a pet project for the Conservatives, and former MP Joy Smith even has her own, self-titled foundation to combat human trafficking. A quick look at the donors to her foundation reveals that there are more religious or evangelical organizations donating to her foundation than businesses. Incidentally, her foundation generated a $50,000 surplus (of $138,000 total revenue) at 2014 year-end. Smith is not seeking re-election and will instead focus on her anti-human-trafficking activism.

There's evidence that the human trafficking crisis is being blown up by Conservative forces, probably, at least in part, to distract attention from more widespread and systemic violence against women, especially Indigenous women. During this election campaign, Harper has said nothing about systemic violence against women, despite the fact that at least 21 woman and girls have been found dead, nearly all allegedly murdered, during this election period.

In 2010, Statistics Canada concluded that it's impossible to be able to tell whether human trafficking was increasing or decreasing due to how difficult it is to access reliable data. Harper's government has done irreparable harm to Canada's data collection, surely making research on human trafficking more difficult. And, one of the first decisions that the Conservatives made was to cut nearly all of Canada's Status of Women offices.

Fewer sources of data and fewer resources for women's organizations means that the Conservatives can get away with overstating particular threats to public safety. This promise will do more to boost Conservative popularity among some Canadians than help victims of exploitation.



A list of woman and girls who have been found dead during the 2015 election campaign period:

Cheryl Bau-Tremblay, found dead in her home in Beloeil, Québec. She was five months pregnant. Her partner was charged on August 7.

Unnamed woman found dead in Toronto on August 11.

Lori Constable, found smothered to death in Waterdown, Ontario on August 17. Her husband was also found dead and police are waiting for toxicology reports.

Breanna Kannick died while in police custody on August 20 in Regina.

Karyn Samoisette, found dead on August 21 in Estrie, Québec.

Dorothy Benson, found dead due to neglect and bed sores in an Ontario nursing home, August 24.

Lan (or Lana) Cam Kasjaniuk and one unidentified woman, both found dead in Edmonton, one week apart. Two other women were found dead in June in the same neighbourhood.

Unnamed woman, found dead in a home in Calgary, on August 25. A man has been charged.

Unnamed woman, found dead in a park in Guelph on August 29.

Cindy Trapper Hamel-Robert found dead on September 5 near Amos, Québec.

Doris Hallé-Tremblay, disappeared on Sepember 6 was found dead near Verchères, Québec.

Hannah Meketech, found dead in her home in Coleman, Alberta on September 9. Her death might be connected to the murders of two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette and her father, Terry Blanchette, in Blairmore, Alberta.

Brooklyn Moose, found dead in the attic of a Regina home, on September 11.

Victoria Joanne Crow Shoe, found dead on September 13. She was from Lethbridge.

Judith Wilson, killed in her home, in Oakville on September 21. Her son is facing charges.

Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton, killed in Wilno, Ontario on September 22.

Unnamed woman, found dead at a home known to have been the site of domestic disturbances, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, on September 22.




Image: Flickr/Jen Castro

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