The Regional District of Nanaimo will ask the B.C. government for stronger law enforcement in order to better combat human and child sex trafficking.
At an RDN committee of the whole meeting last week, board members recommended writing a letter to Premier John Horgan and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, alerting them to the problem and asking for increased funding, public awareness and enforcement.
Cathy Peters, an anti-human sex trafficking and sexual exploitation advocate, made a presentation at the RDN committee meeting May 11. Peters said the federal government enacted in 2014 the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which targets the buyer of sex and recognizes the seller as a victim, with prosecution immunity. Peters said B.C. is lagging behind other provinces in enforcement and awareness and cited the U.S. state department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, which she said was “scathing” about Canada’s record.
“Vancouver is a port city and an entry point into Canada, and along with Toronto, is a global sex tourism destination,” Peters told the committee.
Unregulated technology, limited law enforcement and little or no prevention education are contributing factors, she said.
“The sex industry is growing fast, targeting children. Children is where the money is, fuelled by the internet where most of the luring is taking place,” said Peters. “Here are some stats: 13 years old is the average for recruitment in the sex industry. In the Lower Mainland, it’s 10 to 12 years of age, much younger for Indigenous girls. Fifty-four per cent are Indigenous. They are severely over-represented in the sex industry and this is the most egregious form of systemic racism in the country.”
In terms of a strategy, the RDN can “reduce demand and diminish supply,” according to Peters, and it can reduce demand through the business licensing process.
“Unregistered massage and body rub parlours are certainly No. 1,” said Peters. “No. 2 are nail spas, No. 3 are holistic health centres, day spas, modelling agencies, tattoo parlours, escort services, cheap bars and hotels, men’s clubs, Airbnb … strip clubs, organized crime clubhouses and truck stops can be typical covers for sex trafficking and exploitation.”
Sheryl Armstrong, City of Nanaimo director and former RCMP officer, introduced the motion and agreed the province is behind where it should be on the file.
“I think it’s really important that we bring this forward as an issue, especially when it’s dealing with the Indigenous young females because it’s horrific,” Armstrong said at the meeting. “They used to have the ‘kiddie stroll’ and it’s well known in Vancouver where [it] is and there’s very little the police do around it … I hope that we can help you.”
Last week, the B.C. government announced more than $750,000 in crime prevention and remediation grants for more than 20 projects around the province addressing the causes and impacts of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and sex worker safety. The projects, led by non-profits, are paid for through proceeds from civil forfeiture.
“These annual grants support life-changing and even life-saving work through supporting the prevention of gang involvement and of gender-based violence and violence against women,” said Farnworth in a press release.
An example of one of the programs receiving funding is the Vancouver Police Department counter exploitation unit’s Not Your Queen workshop and video series, which the province says will be centred around educating youths about the dangers of sexual exploitation and the realities of human trafficking.
Another example is Victoria’s VIDEA international development education association’s Raised Voices project, which will work with vulnerable Indigenous youths and Indigenous youth leaders to create a “social media influencer-engaged” mass media campaign and outreach strategy to try to encourage awareness and leadership to address human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls.