Thank you for asking me to testify before the Committee today. My name is Jamie McIntosh and I am the Executive Director of International Justice Mission Canada.
In its myriad forms, human trafficking is an egregious assault on human rights, human dignity, and human freedom. One current manifestation is forced labour slavery, where women, men, and children are frequently held in exploitive and brutal conditions from which they might never be released.
During a typical IJM investigation a few years ago, I encountered a young woman who was forced to crush rocks with a small sledgehammer for 12 hours a day, each day, in the blazing South Asian sun. Her slave masters cared not that, at the time, she was about eight months pregnant. Thanks in part to cooperative local officials and a contingent of British, American, and Canadian lawyers—one of whom is in the room with us today—who volunteered their expertise, we were able to successfully assist in an intervention that resulted in her immediate release, along with the release of 37 others, leading to the start of a new life for them.
According to credible estimates, this one woman's daily experience is suggestive of the plight of 27 million others who are held in present-day slavery. Shockingly, that figure represents about 10,000 more souls than were extracted from Africa in 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.
On a recent visit to Africa, Governor General Michaëlle Jean reflected on the horrors of the enslavement of her ancestors. She said:
This doesn't concern just the descendants of slaves. There are still children who are enslaved. I know that slavery is still a reality today.
In fact, as brutal as forced labour slavery is—and it is brutal indeed—sexual slavery is perhaps even more horrific. One young woman who I have been privileged to meet had been held as a slave in a brick kiln until one day, at the age of 14, she courageously fled her situation in pursuit of a better life. She got farther than most. She made it to a train station, where four kindly women befriended her and offered her some tea. The tea had been laced with a drug, and this young woman found herself coming to, a few days later, in what turned out to be a brothel, where she was beaten with plastic pipes, whipped with electrical cords, burned with cigarettes, and forced to give service to between 15 and 25 men each and every day. This hellish nightmare went on for a period of about three years, until, by the grace of God, IJM investigators were able to find her in that situation and mobilize an effective operation to secure her release from her captors, who tormented her day after day. Sadly, this beautiful young woman was one of the estimated 10 million women and girls who are held against their will, trafficked into sexual slavery, whose lot in life is, simply put, to be serially raped for profit.
International Justice Mission is a human rights organization that rescues victims like these two women, victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression. We serve in an overseas context where local authorities cannot always be relied upon for relief. IJM provides a direct operational field response to individual cases of abuse by conducting professional investigations to document the abuse and mobilizing intervention efforts on behalf of the individual victims. These cases are referred to us by the relief and development communities serving amongst the poor overseas who witness the abuses but are powerless to intervene.
IJM has field offices in 13 countries in South Asia where slavery is prevalent: in Africa; Latin America; and Southeast Asia, including countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines, where sex trafficking today is a pronounced reality.
Since 1997, IJM agents have spent thousands of hours infiltrating human trafficking operations and working carefully with government authorities around the world to bring rescue to the victims and accountability to the perpetrators.
Such international cooperation can lead to effective action. In 2003, for example, IJM conducted a three-week undercover operation in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak, just outside of Phnom Penh. We identified 45 children under the age of 15 who were being offered for sexual exploitation, often to foreign sex tourists, including, sadly, Canadians.
Thankfully, Canadians are also helping to combat this form of violent sexual abuse and exploitation. On March 29, culminating from this investigation, in an operation conducted jointly with the Cambodian National Police, 37 girls were rescued from the brothels, including nine who were between the ages of 5 and 10. Toronto resident and former UN police officer, Jasper Ayelazuno, who is with us today, provided logistical support on this particular operation. This led to 13 arrests and 6 convictions, including a 20-year prison sentence for the brothel keeper.
IJM has since developed an ongoing relationship with the authorities in Cambodia, providing training to police officers in investigative techniques and in conducting raids in sex trafficking situations. Staff Sergeant Joanne Verbeek of the Toronto Police Service has provided invaluable assistance in these initiatives over the past two years through volunteer deployments.
Our collaboration with Cambodian authorities has, in the past two and a half years, led to the rescue of 147 individual victims of commercial sexual exploitation, and 59 arrests of perpetrators, of whom 34 were convicted of their crimes. Through this type of direct field experience, IJM is gaining, I believe, some precise insights about the nature of the problem, along with some lessons about concrete steps that actually prove effective in combatting human trafficking.
We would like to comment on what we perceive as some of the greatest needs in Canada's efforts to combat trafficking. The four areas--and we will only highlight the first one in the interest of time--are enforcement, education and training, domestic awareness, and the development of a national action plan.
Enforcement. We believe that the greatest single gap in Canadian and international efforts in combatting trafficking is in the enforcement of existing laws. Our anti-trafficking laws need to be vigorously enforced to provide any real protection for the victims. In fact, traffickers are deterred only when the force of law adds sufficient risk of criminal sanctions to their cost calculation. Simply put, they only view these young women and girls as commodities to be trafficked for their own profit, and they will exploit them no matter to what extent, as long as they feel they can get away with it at the end of the day. Unless they feel the weight of the law, unless traffickers are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced, they will not be deterred.
Canada's efforts to combat trafficking cannot be focused only on those trafficking cases that find their way into Canada, and I think this is an important understanding that we need to grasp. According to RCMP figures, an estimated 600 to 800 victims are trafficked into Canada annually, and another 1,500 to 2,200 are trafficked through Canada into the United States, whereas there are some 700,000 trafficking victims worldwide, according to the UN. It's like comparing a teaspoon to a tsunami.
Canada can only effectively fight human trafficking by disrupting the global networks that bring the victims and the perpetrators into Canada, and to do so we must understand the counter-trafficking challenges in the countries where the victims are trafficked.
Without resources dedicated to assist in international investigations, Canadian law enforcement is not adequately positioned to ensure actual enforcement of existing extraterritorial laws that pertain to Canadian offenders abroad. A strategic redeployment of resources is necessary for Canada to assist developing nations in confronting the global scourge of human trafficking.
For instance, Canada's provisions on sex tourism had been in force for eight years before a single conviction was obtained: it was still open season on these children. This was not due to the lack of professionalism or dedication by Canadian law enforcement, but rather a natural consequence of the lack of forward deployment of dedicated investigators to counter Canadians engaged in the heinous criminal sexual exploitation of children abroad.
The only conviction to date under these provisions is that of Donald Bakker. In that particular case, Vancouver police investigators engaged in a collaborative effort with IJM to piece together the elements of Donald Bakker's crimes against trafficked children in Cambodia, little prepubescent girls who he was torturing while videotaping himself doing this to these girls. Without the evidence IJM had gathered in counter-trafficking operations in Svay Pak, the Vancouver Police Department has stated that it would have been extremely difficult to have established a case against Bakker. In all likelihood, his crimes against children would have gone simply uncharged.
What good are the laws that exist on the books if they aren't enforced for the most vulnerable in our society, these girls who are trafficked into these situations? Of course, without the Canadian authorities' exemplary efforts to hold Bakker accountable, IJM would not have had the ability to provide for his prosecution.
IJM's experience in the field demonstrates that sex trafficking is the ugliest and most disturbing, but also the most preventable, human-instigated disaster in our world today. The simple fact of the matter is this: sex trafficking only flourishes where it is tolerated by local law enforcement. The business of sex trafficking requires that perpetrators commit multiple offences of abduction, rape, assault, and false imprisonment, and that they do this openly, offering the victims to the public so that the customers can find them. If the customers can find them, the law enforcement can find them. But if they're being cut into the profits, they have no impetus to secure effective operations to ensure the detention of the perpetrators. Therefore, it can be shut down wherever there is the political will combined with the operational resources to do so.
This fundamental vulnerability underscores the critical importance of strengthening law enforcement efforts that lead to the successful prosecution and conviction of sex trafficking offenders, both in Canada and overseas.
I conclude with a final thought and story. Governor General Michaëlle Jean has just reminded us, when it comes to the present realities of slavery, that indifference is guilt. Indifference is a killer. These girls are trafficked and they're infected with HIV/AIDS because we're not getting there to help them. She continues, “Not only would we betray the people still living in those conditions...we would also be betraying ourselves”.
To shake us from any lingering complacency, I would like to conclude our time with a simple request. It comes from the courageous young woman whose story of sexual slavery I introduced you to earlier. What I didn't mention to you is that on her own initiative and at great risk to her own personal safety, she offered to lead us to other brothels where she knew girls were still being held and violated night after night. Some of the girls she led us to were literally held in brothels, in dungeons underground, held captive against their will. While we were able to rescue several other girls, who then led us to other girls whom we were able to release, some of her friends were nowhere to be found. Presumably, they had been moved to another location by the traffickers. When our time together was drawing to a close, this young woman urged me to share her story with Canadians, that they might use their influence and resources to set free other girls like her, perhaps even her missing friends. She implored me to ask us to do whatever we can.
This young woman cannot be here today. I'm a poor substitute, but I'm asking you on her behalf, on behalf of the some 10 million other girls and women like her, I'm asking you, the House of Commons and the entire country, to do whatever you can to rescue them. Thank you. Merci.