The oldest profession?
To Manitoba Conservative MP Joy Smith, prostitution, or human trafficking as she prefers to call it, is the “oldest oppression.”
The representative for the Winnipeg, Man. riding of Kildonan-St. Paul was in Penticton as part of a cross-country tour to educate people about what she believes is an increasing problem.
“I think it’s Canada’s greatest secret but this is something that I think Canadians need to know because it is touching more and more lives and it can happen to any vulnerable person,” said Smith who spoke at the Church of the Nazarene with church member and local Conservative party candidate Marshall Neufeld.
“We have this idea that if we see a girl on the streets — even though it’s mainly in the hotels and has been ever since social media came into play — is that this is what they want.
“No this is not what they want. I know, I’ve spoken to hundreds of victims over the last 14 years and I’ve rescued a lot of girls.”
Smith has won many awards for her work to end the exploitation of men, women and children and punish the perpetrators.
She is the first parliamentarian in the country’s history to have had two private member’s bills passed amending the Criminal Code.
One of her most important accomplishments was to add to the list of human trafficking offences which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, can now be prosecuted in Canada.
Largely unspoken about in the past, sex tourism is reportedly a multi-billion industry involving travel to other countries where what are crimes in Canada are legal or go largely unpunished.
In 2009, Smith introduced Bill C-286 to amend the Criminal Code minimum sentence involving trafficking of persons under age 18 and create a new offence for child trafficking with a five-year mandatory penalty.
She is also founder and president of the Joy Smith Foundation, a not-for-profit agency with a mission to combat what’s called the modern-day slave trade.
Smith’s real target are those she calls predators, often older males who give lavish gifts and provide drugs while at the same time pulling the victims out of their traditional support systems of family and friends.
“Because human trafficking happens so quickly it’s one of those deceptive things,” said Smith.
“Often these predators take away a person’s identity so if they move them to some other place they are nobody and there is nobody there for them.
“The victims are bought and sold and some of them are actually tattooed because they belong to somebody, like cattle.
She estimated the so-called “owners” can make upwards of $250,000 annually through exploiting one person.
And unlike drugs, it is the same commodity being sold over and over so the investment is minimal making it a very lucrative venture, particularly for organized crime.
“We need to make people know that this not what Canada stands for and education is our best weapon,” said Smith.
“It’s especially important for young people to learn to recognize potential predators and to not give out personal information.
“Also, the main thing is not to criminalize the victim, to have exit systems so they can get out because if they don’t see a way out, they’re smart enough to know they don’t talk to the police. They don’t say anything they just survive.
“Unfortunately it is something that has remained beneath the pubic radar screen but we want to prevent this from happening before the young people ever get into it because by then, it can be too late.”