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Benjamin Perrin aims to strengthen Canada’s ability to put away criminals who traffic in human lives - photo by Martin Dee
Benjamin Perrin aims to strengthen Canada’s ability to put away criminals who traffic in human lives - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 9 | Sep. 6, 2007

Reforming Canada’s Record on Human Trafficking

By Lorraine Chan

A young woman answers a job ad that offers a prepaid air ticket and glamorous work as an international model. She leaves home -- perhaps from a city in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia.

Upon arriving in Canada, she discovers to her horror that she has been lured into the sex trade and faces “debts” that she must now pay off. Somehow she escapes her captors and looks for help. The authorities detain, interrogate and then deport her.

Until recently, this was how Canada routinely treated human trafficking victims -- as illegal migrants, says Benjamin Perrin, an assistant professor who joined the UBC Faculty of Law in August.

Perrin’s teaching and research interests include domestic and international criminal law, international humanitarian law and comparative constitutional law and human trafficking.

The RCMP estimates that 600 people are trafficked into Canada for sexual exploitation each year.  As a transit country, another 1,500 and 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the United States. These estimates are believed to very conservative, says Perrin.

In 2006, Perrin completed a research report investigating how victims had been treated in Canada, in conjunction with The Future Group -- a non-governmental organization he founded in 2000 to work directly with victims of human trafficking overseas.

“It is quite shocking to see how poor Canada’s record has been,” says Perrin.

He says that Canada deported victims without any kind of emergency support or psychological counseling. “The police were forced to cobble together resources to provide that care because there was no system in place to protect victims.”

In fact, Perrin’s research gave Canada a failing grade when compared to how countries like Germany, Italy, Australia, the United States, Sweden and Norway handled trafficking cases.

While these other countries provide victims with housing, medical care and temporary work visas, Canada had no such measures in place.

Perrin explains that Canada had made “generic commitments” that never got translated into specific measures. In 2000, along with 117 countries, Canada signed an international protocol that supplemented a United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime “to prevent, suppress and punish” human trafficking.

Other signatory countries put resources and a legal framework in place, and kept close track of how their efforts were working, says Perrin.

“The U.S. has done very well. Their records show they have prosecuted hundreds of traffickers and helped many victims. The reason is that they have engaged civil society organizations to work with them and implement laws to protect victims.”

After publishing his research, Perrin was asked by the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to help improve the situation. As a result, the Canadian government agreed to provide temporary residence permits for victims, who are entitled during that time to receive basic medical care and counseling.

The government has also started to commit resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, and allows victims to obtain work permits during their temporary residence status.

“We’re seeing signs of hope. Canada is starting to turn the corner now, but much work remains to be done,” says Perrin, noting that Canada has yet to successfully prosecute a single person for human trafficking, despite victims continuing to be discovered.

Activist, Legal Reformer, Law Professor

By Lorraine Chan

In 2001, after his undergraduate degree in international business studies at the University of Calgary, Benjamin Perrin traveled to Phnom Penh to work with children whose lives had been shattered by trafficking.

Along with a team of volunteers, Perrin helped implement a project to warn 10,000 at-risk children about trafficking through a public relations campaign with local airlines and travel agents to deter would-be child sex tourists, as well as rehabilitation programs for rescued victims.

Through recovery centres, some of the older girls had learned trades but needed some pointers on how to make a living with their newfound skills in cooking, sewing or hairdressing in their communities.

Perrin created a hands-on small business training program that helped them improve their chances. Through a series of activities and workshops, rescued trafficking victims were taught how to manage their money, market their products, and deal with customers.

“Their stories have never left me and never will. That’s why I’m still working on this issue years later,” says Perrin, who in 2004 was named by Maclean’s magazine as one of the “Best and Brightest.”

He says his earlier activism laid the groundwork for his current mission, to advance research on fighting international crime.

In addition to his fieldwork in Asia, Perrin has also served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada to the Honourable Madam Justice Marie Deschamps and completed an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. During his graduate studies in law at McGill University, Perrin was assistant director of the Special Court for Sierra Leone legal clinic that assists the Trial and Appeals Chambers in war crimes prosecutions.

Perrin says international criminal law prosecutions are particularly complex and challenging because they involve a “hybrid legal tradition at the confluence of public international law, international human rights law and national criminal laws.”

The enormous challenge of these cases is not only bringing accused war criminals to justice, but proving relatively new international crimes. He says Canada needs to gain greater experience in organizing such prosecutions, given the scope of international trials.

“They’re much more complicated in terms of what the prosecutor has to prove. Often, the biggest challenge is organizing the case in the midst of special rules for evidence and obtaining access to victims in war-torn countries.”

In recognition of his work in this field, Action Canada named Perrin this summer as one of its 17 Fellows. Action Canada is a national organization based in Vancouver that seeks to create a network of informed, emerging leaders.

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Last reviewed 05-Sep-2007

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