I am Canadian. Those that recognize this reference know that the source comes from a slogan used in a popular commercial of one of Canada’s national prides – the beer. The commercial comes in many forms, and discusses why, we as Canadians (my apologies for lumping in any non-Canadians reading this), should be very proud of our country. There are many things to be proud of as a Canadian. We pride ourselves on our hockey teams, our Great Canadian Outdoors, our nation’s heart-stopping signature dish – poutine, accessible health care, and being “left-wing bike-riding pinkos.” We are proud that within our history, we were a pivotal part of the Underground Railroad, and were seen as leaders in the abolition movement.
What I am not proud of is my country’s current stance on human-trafficking. I recently read the book “Invisible Chains” by Benjamin Perrin, one of Canada’s few experts on human-trafficking. I was appalled to learn that out of eight industrialized nations, Canada was ranked at the bottom, receiving a grade of an F. In comparison, the United States received the highest grade, a B+. These rankings were based on best practices in terms of providing support for victims of human-trafficking. Canada’s approach to the issue is egregious. Instead of providing services, acknowledging and dealing with calls for reform, and creating policies that would protect and prevent further cases of human-trafficking, we deal with the issue by subjecting victims to routine deportation. Shame.
On top of this, Canada has a history of embarrassing behavior towards trafficking that exploits and marginalizes women. It was only recently that Canada finally abolished the “Exotic Dancer Visa”, a visa that completely deprived immigrant women of their human rights and dignity. An amendment to the Bill created shortcuts within the immigration system, allowing foreign exotic dancers to be fast-tracked through the system without case-by-case confirmation. This opened up a storm of poor documentation, and as a result, poor monitoring of the rights and legal status of these women. To qualify for this visa, women need only show a letter stating that the job was up for offer; this was often no more than a printout of an online advertisement. Foreign exotic dancers with job offers from Canadian employers could apply for and receive their work permit at a port of entry, without detailed scrutiny of the circumstances, underlying the demand for this service. Three-month long visas were granted to these women, but were held by their employers. Employers controlled the contracts, the women’s work hours, work locations, and pay. Recruitment fees were hidden within a woman’s earnings, and deducted from their salary for securing the job. Canada allowed women to work in a marginalized employment sector and gave their employers massive control over their status, work conditions, and lives. Double shame.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done within the Canadian system to prevent and protect human-trafficking. We refer to ourselves as “The True North strong and free;” until we make real efforts to abolish slavery on our ground, let’s re-evaluate our stance. Let’s remember that we were once the final destination of the Underground Railroad, and go back to being a leader in helping those that are trafficked. Let’s be proud to say “we stand on guard for thee,” and actually mean it. Call on your MP to adopt a national plan of action to combat human-trafficking. You can access your MP’s address here and find out more about what Canada is doing towards stopping human-trafficking.