As the eyes of the world turn to Vancouver, The United Church of Canada is part of an ecumenical coalition that is urging Canadians to see one disturbing aspect of the 2010 Olympic Games that won’t make the media coverage—human trafficking.
“The Vancouver Olympics provide an opportunity to draw attention to the issue,” says Peter Noteboom, the Canadian Council of Churches’ (CCC) Associate Secretary, Justice and Peace.
The CCC has formed a Human Trafficking Working Group, which includes The United Church of Canada and other denominations. It hopes to raise awareness about the issue during the Olympics and then develop a longer-term advocacy agenda that confronts trafficking in Canada.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says human trafficking is the world’s third largest criminal industry, behind arms trade and drug trafficking. More than 800 people are trafficked to Canada each year, while another 1,500 to 2,200 travel through Canada to the U.S.
Trafficking usually supplies the demand for women and child prostitutes, but the International Labour Organization says there is also an increase in domestic exploitation and a large number of agriculture, construction, and factory workers are being trafficked.
Statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of trafficking victims before, during, and after a major sporting event, such as the Olympics. Trafficked people enter as “visitors” to fulfill the increased demand for prostitutes.
The CCC’s working group is asking Canadians to be more aware, since that is one of the best tools for protection and prevention. It is also calling on all governments to work to prevent, protect, and prosecute for human trafficking and establish the infrastructure needed to rehabilitate and reintegrate victims.
So, as Canadians settle in to enjoy the Olympics, we should also ponder how Canada can fulfill its duty to uphold human rights and exercise justice in the face of this exploitation.
For more information on this and other stories, see the February 2010 Mandate at http://www.united-church.ca/sales/magazines/mandate/2010/february.