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Awareness campaign takes aim at human trafficking

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/9/2010 (2537 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The federal government has launched a national awareness campaign to highlight the crime of human trafficking and encourage the public to report suspected cases.

The "Blue Blindfold" campaign, which includes television, radio and print advertising, brochures and posters, was announced Tuesday by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews at RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg.

Toews said some of the campaign images are disturbing and uncomfortable, but that's because the crime is disturbing and uncomfortable, and needs to be stopped.

"By exposing the reality of this terrible crime to the light of day, Canadians can better recognize and report evidence of criminal activity," he said.

The campaign is a partnership between the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association, the RCMP's human trafficking national coordination centre and Public Safety Canada. Its slogan is "Don't close your eyes to human trafficking." The "Blue Blindfold" concept is borrowed, with permission, from a campaign in the United Kingdom.

In a brief TV spot screened for the media, ordinary Canadians are depicted wearing blue blindfolds, suggesting their blindness to exploited individuals in the background, such as an exotic dancer performing in a bra and panties and a domestic worker who appears Asian. Similar materials for another campaign, launched by the RCMP last year, were also handed out. Its slogan is "I'm not for sale."

Both initiatives urge Canadians to learn to recognize possible victims and call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or the RCMP.

Toews admitted it is difficult to quantify the crime. "Because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking, Canada, like most countries ...has very little data on the extent of human trafficking within our borders."

Most victims trafficked to Canada from abroad, he said, have been identified as coming from Asian countries such as Korea, China, Taiwan and Malaysia, or from eastern European countries including Romania, Ukraine and Moldova. The majority are forced into the sex industry and most are women and children.

The news conference was hosted by local Conservative MP Joy Smith, who has made battling human trafficking a personal crusade. A private member's bill introduced by Smith became law this summer. It sets a minimum sentence of five years for anyone convicted of human trafficking when the victim is a child; six years if there are aggravating circumstances such as violence.

Raf Souccar, RCMP deputy commissioner, federal policing, distinguished between human trafficking and human smuggling. In the latter, the victim is usually not enslaved, but is free once he or she pays for transportation to Canada. However, Souccar said, "If they're unable to make payment, sometimes smuggling then turns to trafficking."

Toews repeated his comments that the MV Sun Sea, the recently landed ship carrying migrant Tamils from Sri Lanka, was a "test ship," part of a criminal human-smuggling enterprise.

In an interview, Toews rejected the argument made by Mennonite Central Committee Canada refugee worker Ed Wiebe that smugglers do not transport people in the holds of ships.

"Our information and my briefings (indicate) that individuals have been paying exorbitant amounts of money to come into Canada through maritime means," Toews said.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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