Seeking the Victims
By Tony Palermo
It’s mid-morning and A/Sgt. Yves Brochu with the RCMP’s Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC) is feeling the pressure. His comments on three high-priority human trafficking reports are due by mid-afternoon. One report is for the Catholic Church’s Santa Marta Group, an international alliance of police and bishops working together to eradicate human trafficking. Another deals with a new Citizen and Immigration Canada initiative and the third is for a UK theatre production.
By Tony Palermo
All the while, the emails keep coming and the to-do pile continues to grow. Asked how he manages it all, Brochu laughs and says it’s just a typical day.
“Whether you’re at the HTNCC or working human trafficking in a municipal service, the subject matter and workload can be very demanding,” he says. “Every police officer who I’ve met that works in human trafficking always looks at the work as more than just a job.”
Located at the RCMP’s National Headquarters in Ottawa, the HTNCC was created in Sept. 2005 as a focal point for police efforts to combat human trafficking – that is, the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/ or exercising control, direction or influence over a person’s movements to exploit them, typically for sex work or forced labour.
Human trafficking is known as modern day slavery because of how severely it violates the basic human rights and dignity of its victims. The HTNCC creation coincides with the 2005 implementation of Canada’s first human trafficking legislation under sections 279.01 through 279.04 of the Criminal Code.
Public Safety Canada leads the Anti Human Trafficking Task Force; the RCMP represents law enforcement. It uses the four pillar approach of prevention, protecting victims, prosecuting controllers/offenders and creating domestic and international partnerships. The HTNCC develops and coordinates anti-human trafficking initiatives under five main priorities:
- Develop tools, protocols and guidelines to enable investigations.
- Coordinate national awareness/training and anti-trafficking initiatives.
- Identify and maintain lines of communication, identify issues for integrated coordination and provide support.
- Develop and maintain international partnerships and coordinate international initiatives.
- Coordinate intelligence and disseminate information/intelligence.
- Essentially, the HTNCC is the portal between the Government of Canada and our other provincial and municipal policing partners, as well as NGOs and other stakeholders both domestically and internationally,” explains Brochu. “We’re involved in a lot of networking and intelligence and best practices sharing.”
Brochu points to the June F1 Grand Prix in Montreal as an example. The HTNCC was part of the RCMP’s Joint Operations Centre, supporting and sharing information with Justice Canada, CBSA, the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security.
He also refers to the I’m Not For Sale human trafficking awareness campaign, a series of educational posters, videos and information packets the HTNCC developed in 2012, which are still relevant and in use today.
The material was distributed through a local NGO to recently arrived Syrian refugees, says Brochu, noting “it’s another example of how we work with our partners to help create awareness.”
The HTNCC “must go beyond raising awareness and providing training to actively targeting and disrupting human trafficking operations in Canada,” recommends author Benjamin Perrin in his 2010 book, Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.
Perrin said at the time that the HTNCC was led by a national coordinator and had only five police officers and two civilian analysts. Unfortunately, the unit now consists of only two sworn members – Brochu and a partner who recently joined. The other sworn position was vacant at the time of this writing. There are two civilians – an administrator and an analyst who develops intelligence products to identify trends, indicators and patterns.
Although Brochu has only been with the HTNCC for the last year himself, the 30-yearveteran officer has years of training and international experience dealing with similar types of crimes. Despite the reduced staff, Brochu is looking to invigorate the HTNCC so it can help identify and fight human trafficking.
“We’re starting to facilitate most of the training to NGOs and local law enforcement now that awareness (about human trafficking) is catching on,” explains Brochu. “As Canada’s national law enforcement agency, I believe we need to take more of an operational role to be a more effective law enforcement portal.”
Brochu says the RCMP has stepped up its participation in Operation Northern Spotlight, an anti-human trafficking initiative. More than 60 RCMP members participated in the last project, held in late-2015, and he expects a continued high level of involvement.
Only as good as the available data
Many people, including those in the legal system, believe human trafficking in this country mostly involves young foreign women but the HTNCC reports more than 90 per cent of sex trafficking victims are Canadian born and raised.
The HTNCC has identified 360 cases since 2005 where human trafficking specific charges – s.279.01-s.279.03, s.465 (conspiracy to commit human trafficking), s.467.11 (participation in a criminal organization to facilitate or commit human trafficking) and s.118 (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) – were laid. Of the 360 cases, 341 involved domestic victims.
Brochu is quick to caution, however, that the statistics do not necessarily reflect the true picture.
“One of our biggest challenges is that the reporting of statistics is not mandatory,” he says. “Some agencies send us their stats, others don’t. So, while these stats are at least something, they don’t necessarily reflect the true picture of human trafficking in Canada.”
The problem of interpretation becomes apparent when you look at other reported statistics. For example, out of the 360 cases, the HTNCC reports 102 human trafficking specific and/or related convictions (i.e., procuring, living of the avails of prostitution, forcible confinement, keeping a common bawdy house, etc.). In other words, while the reporting of the 360 cases is based on human trafficking specific charges, the 102 convictions also include much broader and/or related convictions. One human trafficking team lead says he refuses to submit human trafficking statistics to the HTNCC. “I don’t want to contribute to a picture that is already skewed,” says the officer. “Unless everyone is submitting their stats and reporting it the same way, it’s not accurate.”
Brochu says he understands the concern.
“The officer is right, the reporting of the stats isn’t obligatory so the HTNCC stats definitely aren’t an accurate picture of what’s happening. That’s a major challenge… but at the end of the day, the stats are extremely important. The more participation we get, the more accurate the picture becomes.”
Brochu says statistics are useful for establishing a baseline, detailing the scope of the problem and to identify trends. The HTNCC gets many requests for statistics from other government agencies, he notes, and NGOs use them to help develop reports and plan initiatives.
“Our senior management is aware of our limitations by not having all of the stats and are working on it,” says Brochu, adding the CACP is helping the effort.
A collaborative effort
Brochu says it’s not just a matter of mandating the reporting of statistics to the HTNCC but dealing with the “fatigue factor” in their capture. There are a number of competing databases and officers might view an additional one as “just another layer” to contend with. For example, he notes each municipality already has its own RMS system.
Fatigue doesn’t just apply to the number of databases, he says, but the multiple points of potential data entry error that can occur as the same information is re-entered.
He suggests one solution might be to require human trafficking data be entered into major case management software like PowerCase. Ontario already requires agencies to enter certain major offences.
Beyond capturing accurate statistics, case management software could detect patterns, identify individuals and help solve crimes across multiple jurisdictions – useful since victims can be shuffled from city to city.
Several Ontario police services seem to agree and already use PowerCase to record their human trafficking cases. A June 2016 Police Service Act regulations monitoring report prepared by the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) shows other police services, including Toronto, Halton, Ottawa, and the OPP, are following the DRPS example.
It’s working so well that the DRPS Human Trafficking Unit was recognized in 2015 with an award for innovation for “Achieving excellence in Major Case Management through the innovative use of technology.”
DRPS reports that it received several “hits” both internally and externally in identifying possible links to individuals and criminal organizations involved in human trafficking.
PowerCase is not standard throughout the country, however, and agencies do not have to enter human trafficking cases or report them to the HTNCC – but Brochu remains optimistic that a solution will be found.
“There’s strength in sharing information and taking a collaborative approach to law enforcement,” says Brochu. “The stats are important to the HTNCC and we look forward to working with all of our municipal partners.”
Freelance journalist Tony Palermo is Blue Line’s Eastern Ontario correspondent. He is working on a book about Canada’s domestic sex trafficking problem and how we’re struggling to deal with it. Visit him at www.tonypalermo. ca, follow him on Twitter @TCPalermo or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .