In the ‘Public Interest’

I attended an interesting conference last week. The conference was focused on legal resources for settlement workers. Where I work we do a lot of settlement work and there are so many facets to it, it was important for me to attend to expand my knowledge. The conference was comprised of smaller workshops on various topics.

I attended a session put on by the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). On first glance, one would think this is a compelling issue in Canada today.[1] In fact, the OCTIP, with help from the federal government, has put together an 8-hour training session on the issue. These people clearly have money to burn. Their materials are plenty and varied. They have cards, brochures and wallet cards all printed on high-quality paper and cardstock. They talked about people being trafficked for the purpose of sex work, other types of labour and organ procurement. Yes, you read that correctly: organ procurement. Apparently the issue is so dire CIC has created a separate temporary residence status for trafficked person.

I honestly felt like I was in a different world listening to this presentation. They never actually presented a case of a trafficked person. We were presented with a list of things to look for so we could identify a trafficked person.[2] After the presentation, I asked how many cases they have of confirmed trafficking in Canada. The answer is less than 100 in 6 years. I have been working with refugees for almost 4 years and we have never seen a case of a trafficked individual. My next question was how much money has been directed at this problem and neither of the presenters knew the answer! There are 4 full time people in the OCTIP in BC and at least one federal person. That would be 5 FTEs conservatively. If we took an average[3] of their salaries as $55,000, that would mean at minimum they are spending $275,000 per year. This means that each trafficked person costs the system $16,500.

I then attended a presentation on family violence. A crown attorney presented some of the difficulties in prosecuting offenders. At one point, the discussion turned to the Missing Women from the DTES[4] and Robert Pickton. The crown attorney very callously spewed what he thought were the numbers in the case. He said Pickton was charged with 8 or 9 murders and that there were 18 that did not proceed to trial.[5] I could not believe the complete disregard for the women who were killed by Pickton displayed by his comments. As a crown attorney you would think he would know the numbers!

What was even more galling was his explanation as to why Pickton never stood trial on the other 20 murders: it was not in the public interest. What he means by this is that because Pickton is already been sentenced to life in prison for 25 years there is no point in taking him to trial on the other charges. I would ask, exactly, whose public interest is he talking about? Certainly not mine or, I am sure, the victims’ families in this case. I would also point out that if the women had been from Kerrisdale and their skin a little lighter there would most definitely be a ‘public interest’ in proceeding on all charges.

The Missing Women’s Inquiry was supposed to give the families some explanations as to what happened. Instead it has been rife with issues from the beginning. With little to no Aboriginal representation and focusing almost completely on the police and their investigation many advocacy groups and victims’ families have expressed that this forum will not, in any way, address their concerns. If all this isn’t bad enough, there are now allegations surfacing about sexism in the workplace of the Inquiry. Apparently the environment is highly sexualized where women have routinely faced demeaning comments. To make it even worse, as if that is possible, the women didn’t want to make complaints because they are concerned their future job prospects would be compromised.

It is time for the BC provincial government to get its act together. Why have we spent 1.65 million dollars on combatting human trafficking[6] while Aboriginal women die on the DTES? Misogyny (racism and classism too) is so deeply ingrained in our culture that women can’t even get a fair shake trying to improve justice for dead women. I grow increasingly weary the older I get. It just seems to get worse.


[1] I am sure being a trafficked person is very devastating. I am not, in any way, saying this issue is not important.

[2] If you are interested in the signs according to OCTIP: http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/octip/signs.htm

[3] Their salaries probably range from $40,000-$70,000 a year.

[4] DTES=Downtown Eastside.

[5] Pickton went to court on 7 charges of murder and once was dropped. He was convicted of 6 counts of second-degree murder. He did not go to court on the other 20.

[6] Which are most likely many cases of human smuggling. Not that human smuggling is a good either.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Until we, as women, stop “asking” for equality in all facets of personhood, and just take what is ours, there will be no fundamental change. And until we, as women, include every sister in the world as one of ours, there will be no fundamental change. This cannot be a quiet revolution, it needs to be loud, it needs to be messy, it needs to be seen, heard and felt by everyone on the planet. It needs to happen now.


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