Part III of III
By Karen McCrae
Angelo worked very hard in his hometown in the Philippines but never seemed to be able to get ahead financially. He was supporting his wife and two sons and was slowly sinking further and further into debt. One day, his cousin put him into contact with a recruiter who told him he could get Angelo a high paying job in Sherwood Park as a chef. The recruiter promised to take care of Angelo’s work visa and transportation fees in return for $10,000. When Angelo told the recruiter he couldn’t afford the fees, the recruiter told him he could pay them off once he started working.
Once Anglo arrived in Sherwood Park, he was told that the restaurant he was contracted to work for was no longer able to employ him. He was told that a cleaning company could take him on as a janitor. He was soon working 14 hours days doing dirty and difficult manual labour. He was regularly insulted and slapped by the company owner. At night, he had no choice but to sleep in the company van. When he approached the owner after a few weeks for his earnings he was told they would be withheld until his recruitment fees were paid. Angelo was surprised when the owner told him that he was working illegally and would be immediately deported if he complained.
Weeks turned into months. Angelo still hadn’t been paid any of his earnings and regularly went hungry. He approached the owner again to ask if his recruitment fees had been paid off. The owner of the cleaning company told Angelo that they knew where his family lived in the Philippines and that if he didn’t drop this issue that they would be hurt or worse.
One day, Angelo passed out from fatigue and hunger. He was taken to the Emergency Room of an Edmonton hospital. The nurse who helped him recognized the signs of exploitation and called the RCMP. In desperation, Angelo told them his story.
Human trafficking – "The act of forcing, coercing,or deceiving an individual into providing sex or labour for the personal gain of another" (Karen McCrae) – is a serious problem in Alberta.
Men, women, and children are coerced or manipulated into providing labour or sex for little or no pay. The victims of this crime are often hidden from our eyes and survive underground, beyond the reach of law enforcement or other possible avenues of help. Victims of trafficking may be engaged in criminal activities, such as the drug or sex trade or gang activities. They may be working and living in Canada illegally. Victims of trafficking are also frequently found working in legal establishments, including construction, agriculture, restaurants, massage parlours, and the hospitality sector. This makes spotting trafficking difficult and learning the potential indicators all the more important.
Human trafficking is a crime that is often hidden in plain sight. Learning the signs and possible red flags of this abuse are vital.
Trafficked persons often have poor mental and physical health. They may be fearful, depressed, nervous, or upset. They may appear malnourished or show signs of physical, mental, or sexual abuse.
Human traffickers often keep victims under tight control and surveillance. Trafficked persons may not have access to their identification documents, may have few personal possessions and may have limited or no control over their money. In some cases, victims of trafficking are not allowed to speak for themselves and can be constantly accompanied by someone who identifies as their boyfriend, partner, employer, or translator.
Trafficked persons are often lied to about their rights in Canada, whether they are a newcomer to Canada or a Canadian citizen. If they have an unreasonable fear of deportation or law enforcement officials, or if they believe no one is willing to help them, then they may be exploited or trafficked.
Trafficked persons may live in inhumane and unhygienic conditions and are frequently forced to work unreasonably long hours. A person living where they work may be trafficked. Victims are often lied to – if they were recruited through false promises regarding the nature or conditions of their work, or if they are only told later that they owe large sums of money, they may have been trafficked.
Everyone has a part to play in eradicating these abuses. As awareness of human trafficking increases, the signs and symptoms of this heinous human rights violation will hopefully become ever more apparent.
The first step is recognizing that human trafficking exists in every community – including our own. The next step is learning more and spreading the word. Together we can create better communities in which trafficked persons are accurately identified and assisted, and eventually, communities where individuals are not abused and exploited at all. The sooner we take up the fight, the better.
Next week, look for Andraya McMaster, to hear about her heart to join this fight.
If you know someone in imminent danger, contact 911 immediately. If you know or suspect someone is being trafficked, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) to report an anonymous tip.
ACT Alberta also provides free community presentations on human trafficking. To arrange for a presentation, leave a referral, get advice, or coordinate services for a victim of trafficking, call ACT Alberta at 780.474.1104.