B.C.'s anti-human trafficking office gutted: collaborator
Andrew Weichel, ctvbc.ca
Published Wednesday, August 3, 2011 5:50PM PDT
The budget for B.C.'s anti-human trafficking office has been reduced to the same amount a trafficker earns selling a single victim, according to a University of British Columbia law professor who works with the organization.
Benjamin Perrin has collaborated with the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons since it was created in 2007, and says it provides an invaluable service preventing trafficking and aiding victims in the province.
"This is an office that over the last several years has serviced over 100 trafficking victims in British Columbia alone," Perrin told ctvbc.ca.
But the organization has had its budget slashed and executive director position terminated, Perrin says, leaving only two full-time, Vancouver-based staff members who have been forced to abandon a number of programs.
"They were going to launch an initiative to prevent young people from becoming prey to trafficking, a whole youth outreach program that has been shelved," he said.
Perrin says he received the news last Thursday from then-executive director Robin Pike.
"She told me her position had been terminated and the main office in Victoria has been closed," Perrin said. "She said that the government has also been, for some time, refusing to fill her staff members who were on maternity leave."
Pike also said the office's annual budget has been cut from $500,000 down to $300,000.
"$300,000 is about the same amount that a sex trafficker earns from selling a single victim," Perrin said. "They are vastly better funded than the office created to combat them."
Solicitor General Shirley Bond issued a statement Wednesday saying that human trafficking remains a priority for the B.C. government.
Bond denied that the office's budget has been cut, saying it has joined the Community Safety and Crime Prevention Branch, which has almost 100 staff members responsible for services for victims of crime.
"However [the office] remains a distinct entity with a clear focus and mandate," Bond said, adding that the move will lead to a more effective response to human trafficking "over the long term."
Penner disagrees, arguing that human trafficking is a specialized area that requires its own resources. He also insists cuts have been made.
"It had about seven staff members in 2009. Now it's down to two and the government is claiming it hasn't been cut," he said.
The office's mandate is to co-ordinate services for trafficking victims, maintain a 24-hour help line, raise awareness among youth and collaborate with provincial ministries, federal departments, municipal governments, law enforcement, community organizations, and First Nations groups
It released a three-year status report in 2010 outlining its initiatives and progress, including an organizational chart that featured at least six staff members and a message from Pike thanking the office's partners.
"British Columbia has demonstrated its caring and commitment to vulnerable people around the world who fall prey to human traffickers," Pike wrote.
"Trafficked persons are foreign nationals from many other countries, and also Canadian citizens; they share one thing, the search for a better life…. all too often, they are trapped, tricked and deceived, coerced, threatened, raped, controlled and exploited."
Perrin says he has contacted Premier Christy Clark's office about having funding restored to the agency, arguing that the human trafficking industry is too profitable to fight on a shoe-string budget.
"People aren't happy when they see the government trying to shirk responsibilities," he said.
The office is managed by the Ministry of Public Safety and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.