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Continue the Struggle against Trafficking, David against Goliath?

Michelle Renaud

Interview with Sister Pierrette Boissé, CND

For nearly ten years you have been the Congrégation de Notre-Dame’s Representative against Human Trafficking.
How did you become involved in this field?

Since the very beginning of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, the orientation toward justice has been at the center of its mission. However, in these last decades, we have committed ourselves to assuming a stance and taking visible action for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. In view of these priorities, I was appointed the Congregation’s Social Justice Coordinator and its representative at UNANIMA International. When my term ended, I continued to be responsible for issues relative to trafficking. It is, undoubtedly, my work with First Nations in British Columbia which led me to become involved to such a degree in this issue. Because I have been able to see firsthand how native women live, I know that they are much more at risk than non-native women of becoming victims of serious violence, murder and of being trapped in trafficking and prostitution rings.

When you hear the word trafficking, who comes to your mind?

I think about all the people, men, women and children, who are, in different ways, exploited: sexual services, forced labour, organ trafficking. Human trafficking is the new face of slavery. The type of slavery which was practiced in previous centuries in Southern plantations, for example, has become somewhat abstract. We have forgotten about the whippings, humiliation, isolation, back-breaking work, and physical and moral injuries. The film 12 Years a Slave takes us back to that cruel reality. While watching it recently, I realized that human trafficking presents the very same reality: horrifying abuses with permanent consequences.

One of the main forms of trafficking, trafficking for sexual exploitation, is tightly linked to prostitution. On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three sections of the Criminal Code criminalizing pimping, solicitation and keeping a bawdy house because they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In your opinion, what will be the consequences of this decision by the Supreme Court with respect to the struggle against human trafficking?

The reason given to justify the Supreme Court decision was that it ensured the protection of women. It declared that the three sections in question led prostitutes to work in dangerous conditions which violated their rights to life and safety. But will women really be better protected? This is uncertain! The positive aspect of this decision is that it obliges government to do its homework! It has now become a political rather than a legal battle.

The debate over prostitution is often tempestuous and the issues are complex. Many organizations against sexual exploitation favour the “Northern Model.” This model, which has been adopted in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, does not criminalize the prostitutes; it criminalizes the clients. The objective is to diminish demand, an objective advocated by Sigma Huda, Special Rapporteur on fundamental rights of victims of trafficking in 2006. Along with this law, it is essential that victims of trafficking and prostitution have access to programmes to help them reintegrate society and adequate social services.

In the struggle against trafficking for sexual exploitation, why is it so important to first target the demand?

Trafficking and prostitution are based upon a market for sexual services which works according to the principle of supply and demand. If trafficking for sexual exploitation is thriving, it is because there is demand for these services and traffickers and pimps are profiting from them. Taking on the demand for sexual services is, understandably, an essential element of any policy against prostitution and trafficking.

Talk to us about some of the recent actions against human trafficking of which you are particularly proud?

During the June 2012 Grand Prix, I participated in the Montreal Anti-Trafficking Movement. This was a way to raise the awareness of the hotel industry to the existence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. I am currently working on a project aimed at encouraging various groups to express their disagreement with the publication of classified ads for sexual services in newspapers. This initiative was inspired by Montreal Mayor, Denis Coderre’s willingness to crack down on erotic massage parlours.

What inspires and drives you to continue your struggle against human trafficking?

Much has been accomplished, especially with respect to raising the public’s awareness and to advocacy. Forty years ago, no one spoke about trafficking! There is still much to do. Maybe we should concentrate more on other aspects of this issue, for example, research and support for victims. I am particularly encouraged by the energy I feel emanating from all the groups in civil society, including those within the UN, which are involved in the struggle against trafficking. The obstacles are formidable. What are still accessible to us are humble actions, small steps aimed at eradicating trafficking. They are somewhat like the small stones of David against Goliath. Pope Francis would agree.


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