Academic journal article Canada-United States Law Journal

"The Tip of the Iceberg": Human Trafficking, Borders and the Canada-U.S. North

Academic journal article Canada-United States Law Journal

"The Tip of the Iceberg": Human Trafficking, Borders and the Canada-U.S. North

Article excerpt

If Nunavut has become a Vietnam or Thailand or Cambodia because people's desperation is so great that they feel that their only remedy is letting their child go with a 30-year-old man ... then there are some fundamental questions here for Canada.

Most Canadians would be shocked to learn of human trafficking in the North and the use of the northern Canada-U.S. border by modern day slave-traders. Increased border controls are identified by political leaders and public policy-makers as orthodoxy for combatting human trafficking. However, given their contemporary constructs, accompanying legal powers and political implications in an age of unparalleled security concerns, borders are inherently statist exercises of territorial sovereignty with only secondary, if not tertiary, regard for individuals. This article examines the complex nature of human trafficking in the North and its unique aspects for indigenous peoples. Canadian and U.S. border law and policy are canvassed, focusing on the border between Alaska and the Yukon. This article challenges the hegemony of current border discourses to combatting human trafficking, arguing that the focus on borders is misplaced and that the dominant border paradigm of security, criminality and law enforcement needs to be replaced by a human security approach in order for anti-trafficking efforts to be effective. The article concludes with policy recommendations for border reform and broader measures, including in the context of the North, prescribing more impactful action to end slavery.


I. The Law

   A. Canada
   B. United States

II. Policy Foundations

    A. Canada
    B. United States

III. Borders: Geographies, Landscapes, Human Trafficking and the North

     A. Trafficking and Geography

IV. The Trouble with Borders

    A. Security and/or Rights
    B. Off the Radar
    C. Lack of Evidence
    D. Too 'Up Stream'?
    E. Identifying Victims
    F. Beyond Borders

V. Conclusion

Talk of Canada's Northern borders traditionally conjures images of the red-drenched Royal Canadian Mounted Police, snowy wooden outpost cabins, and pine-filled mountain landscapes. Most Canadians would be shocked to learn of the prevalence of human trafficking in the North (1) and the use of the Canada-U.S. northern border by modern day slave-traders. (2)

The International Labour Organization estimates that some two-and a-half million people worldwide live in slavery. Human trafficking, tied with the illegal arms trade, has been deemed the world's second most profitable criminal enterprise. (3) Other estimates hold that each year, more than 500,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States for forced sex, (4) while between 1,500 to 2,000 people are trafficked in or across Canada's borders annually. (5) The North is not immune.

Despite a lack of public awareness, human trafficking, the modern term for slavery, has been a concerning reality in the North for some time. (6) While accurate data are scarce, in a recent report, the Ontario Native Women's Association concluded that "indigenous women and girls are dangerously and drastically overrepresented among ... trafficked individuals." (7)

In a 2013-2014 comprehensive and controversial report on human trafficking in Northern Canada, entitled "Service and Capacity Review for Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in Nunavut," (8) researcher Heather Roos noted the cultural factors and vulnerabilities to exploitation that Northern indigenous people and other resident populations face. (9) The study, although disturbing, was primarily national in focus, noting that human trafficking in the North mainly occurs in urban centres across Canada. (10) Roos stated that, "vulnerable Inuit are already known targets for traffickers ... internationally to the United States and potentially through Europe through Greenland." (11) Instances of transnational human trafficking from the North have been reported. …

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