La Crete human-trafficking arrest may be the tip of an iceberg

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Recently, a La Crete man was charged with human trafficking. As far as Peace River – Westlock MP Arnold Viersen is aware, this is the first official cases of human trafficking in the riding, but knows at least four reasons why it is hard to know the true numbers.

First, since trafficking is a clandestine crime, the cases which are discovered are the “tip of the iceberg.”

Second, “many cases don’t get (news) coverage as police may use other charges to apprehend a trafficker to secure an arrest.”

Third, “on the supply side, women and youth from the riding may be lured to cities like Edmonton or Calgary and these cases may never be linked to our riding.”

Fourth, “also not tracked is the number of men from the riding who might go to urban areas like Grande Prairie or Edmonton to buy sex and create a demand for sex trafficking. We do know the RCMP regularly conducts ‘john’ [customers of a prostitute] stings in Grande Prairie but they don’t release the names or addresses of those charged.”

A January 20, 2020 Edmonton Sun article reports ‘RCMP bust dozens of men in Grande Prairie sex-trade sting.’ In total, 37 men aged 19 to 57 were arrested.

Viersen has been fighting human trafficking since shortly after he was first elected in 2015. Viersen recently started another term as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking (APPG).

In 2014, the Canadian Women’s Foundation report “‘No More’ Ending Sex-Trafficking in Canada: Report of the National Task Force on Sex-Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada” found that Indigenous women are especially vulnerable to being victims of trafficking.

There are two types of human trafficking in Canada – labour and sex, says Viersen. The vast majority is sex trafficking. The average trafficked person is female, poor, been abused, and is relatively uneducated. In Canada, 50 per cent are Indigenous. In Edmonton, 80 per cent are First Nations.

In August, 2019 the Slave Lake Indian Regional Council hosted a workshop on human trafficking in Swan River First Nation, west of Slave Lake.

RCMP Staff Sargeant John Spaans has been in Slave Lake for two and a half years. In that time, he thinks there was only one accusation of human trafficking. It was unfounded.

In April, the Alberta government introduced a “Bill 8: Protecting Suvivors of Human Trafficking Act.” In May, it formed a Human Trafficking Task Force.

The media release says, “country music superstar and anti-human trafficking advocate Paul Brandt will lead the seven-member task force that will provide guidance and recommendations on how to best implement the government’s nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking.”

“Human trafficking is happening within 10 miles of where you live,” says Viersen. This is a slightly metaphoric 10 miles, but by which he means “it happens everywhere in Canada,” not just in other people’s neighbourhoods.
“It is probably happening in yours. If something feels off, do something about it.”

One of the ways to report human trafficking is by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-833-900-1010, which was started by the APPG in May 2019.

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