By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa’s federal representative believes Canada is lagging behind in protecting victims of human trafficking.
Colin Carrie recently held a roundtable to discuss what he calls the growing concern in Durham Region.
Carrie was joined by Arnold Viersen, MP for Peace River-Whitlock, and the co-chair of the all-party Parliamentary Group to end Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.
During the roundtable, the two spoke with members of the Coalition to Stop Human Trafficking, officers from the Human Trafficking Unit of Durham Regional Police and survivors themselves.
Carrie said he was encouraged that Durham Regional Chair John Henry participated in the meeting as well.
The roundtable came out when resident Darla Griswold approached Carrie.
Griswold was aware human trafficking was becoming an increasing issue in Oshawa and Durham Region, but the last straw was when her daughter was approached.
“That was no holds barred,” she told The Express, and she decided to contact her MP.
“My main purpose of going to talk him was more to question if he realized what was going on in his city,” she added.
Griswold explained how prevalent human trafficking was in Durham Region, and for Carrie, it was somewhat shocking.
“It’s a real eye-opener. In Canada, within any 10 blocks of your home, this is occurring,” he said.
And it’s not just occurring locally.
“Even as sickening it is this is happening in Oshawa and Durham Region, it’s not just our community,” he said.
Griswold, who attended the roundtable, said she is surprised at how many people don’t realize the extent of the problem.
“They all know it is something that is happening – but they figured it was happening in Toronto and Vancouver,” she said.
With that said, she is happy more people are getting informed.
“I’m really glad there are people standing up and supporting the cause.”
She believes that wiping out establishments such as strip clubs and massage parlours has contributed to the problem.
“When women of that trade…whenever they entered [the city], we knew where they were,” she said. “Because the strip clubs and massage parlours are next to non-existent, we have no way of knowing of what is going on in our city.”
Carrie says through legislation such as Bill C-75, the federal government is “watering down” serious offenses such as human trafficking.
The bill proposes to change charges surrounding human trafficking from indictable to summary offenses.
“This is unacceptable. The victims of human trafficking should not see those who commit these atrocities get away with crimes easily,” Carrie said.
Carrie is calling for more severe mandatory minimum sentences for human trafficking offenses, similar to the U.S.
He says because the U.S. has a mandatory minimum of at least 10 years, most perpetrators will take a plea bargain, and avoid a trial.
“Victims then don’t have to relive the trauma by through a whole court case,” Carrie says.
He says in Canada, many human trafficking cases don’t end up going to trial for years, and victims end up dropping their charges.
“With the injustice of the system, these people are getting away with it with very little consequences,” he says.
A summary offense in Canada comes with a maximum fine of $5,000, which Carrie says is peanuts to those in the human trafficking game.
“One person being trafficked can make $200,000 to $300,000. These slime bags that do this, it’s just the cost of doing business to them – there is no incentive not to do it.”
Carrie says it must be addressed by all levels of government, because “it’s such a complicated issue.”
“Not one level of government can tackle it,” he said.
The Oshawa MP suggests Canadian judges are sometimes “not really well trained on the issue of human trafficking.”
One participant in the roundtable remarked there are specific judges and courts to deal with human trafficking cases in the United States.
Griswold agrees Canada seems “to be a bit behind in helping our young girls and young women.”
“The U.S. is known to be on the forefront of addressing human trafficking. They have addressed it, talked about it, and tried to make changes earlier than Canada has,” she notes. “The way they look at the women down there is just different.”
Moving forward, Carrie has several steps he’d like to take.
One is the renewal of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, first established in 2012.
He is also hoping to work on a private member’s bill to “see if we can do something to help people who have been trafficked.”
To him, the problem needs to be addressed in a non-partisan matter.
“It’s not going to be one solution for everything, but we’ll see what we can up with.”