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Trafficking in Persons
The law outlaws trafficking in persons; however, trafficking remained a problem. The law establishes criminal penalties of up to life in prison and fines of up to $717,000 (Cdn $1 million) for convicted traffickers; however, no prosecutions have yet resulted from the legislation.
The country was a destination and a transit point to the United States for women, children, and men trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation, labor, and the drug trade. There were no reliable data on the extent of the problem.
Vancouver and Toronto served as hubs for organized crime groups that traffic in persons, including trafficking for prostitution. East Asian crime groups targeted the country, and Vancouver in particular, because of lax immigration laws, benefits available to immigrants, and the proximity to the U.S. border.
Thousands of persons, including at least 15,000 Chinese, entered the country illegally over the last decade. These persons came primarily from East Asia (particularly China and Korea, but also Malaysia), Central and South Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America and the Caribbean (including Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti), and South Africa. Many of these illegal immigrants paid large sums to be smuggled to the country, were indentured to their traffickers upon arrival, worked at lower than minimum wage, and used most of their salaries to pay down their debt at usurious interest rates. The traffickers used violence to ensure that their clients paid and that they did not inform the police. Asian women and girls who were smuggled into the country often were forced into prostitution. Traffickers used intimidation and violence, as well as the illegal immigrants' inability to speak English, to keep victims from running away or informing the police.
Preliminary hearings were scheduled for February 2004 for 11 defendants charged in December 2002 of being part of a prostitution ring that involved girls as young as 14.
Victims may apply for permanent residence under the "humanitarian and compassionate" provisions of the Immigration Act; however, some victims of trafficking were arrested and deported. In prostitution cases, often the prostitute instead of the customer was arrested. A prostitute in the country illegally may face deportation, particularly after committing a crime. Local authorities often lacked awareness about the victims of trafficking, which was compounded by many victims' fear of telling authorities about the crime committed against them.
The Government reconvened an Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Women, which held information and training sessions for government officials to increase awareness about trafficking. In addition, the Government supported efforts by NGOs and community organizations to raise awareness of trafficking and funded academic studies of the problem.
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