Last year in Gatineau, police charged a woman with human trafficking.
While most people are aware of trafficking in other parts of the world, some would be surprised that it’s not unheard of in the National Capital Region.
“The most common kind of trafficking we hear about in North America is trafficking into the sex trade,” said Sheila Smith, director of support services for Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans (PACT) Ottawa.
While sexual slavery is one of the most lucrative forms of organized crime in the world — “People can be sold over and over again as opposed to drugs or arms, which can be sold once,” Smith said — there are other forms.
“It can happen in construction or farming or domestic help,” Smith said. “It’s a very hidden reality. It happens in Canada and can even happen here in Ottawa.”
To mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, PACT Ottawa is hosting its third annual End Slavery Event at the Bronson Centre Wednesday.
“Many people don’t know the wide scope of human trafficking,” said Smith. “Many people don’t know that there are 700,000 to four million people trafficked in the world.”
About 75 to 80 per cent of trafficked persons are woman and children, Smith said.
“We want to raise awareness so people can recognize some of the signs of human trafficking,” Smith said. “There are people here that know it happens. We wanted to move it from that level of hearsay to gathering some evidence so we can help enforcement intervene and help social services provide the services needed.”
This year’s event focuses on child rights. Guest speaker Dr. Sue Bennett, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario who has worked in the Middle East, “will be talking about a kind of trafficking a lot of people aren’t aware of, the trafficking of little boys into work as camel jockeys,” Smith said.
“I think it affects us in very hidden ways,” Smith says. “Sometimes we don’t know that the business we’re supporting is using slave labour. The more aware we are, the more clear we can be about not supporting slave practices.”