Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Canada urged to join pact against human trafficking

Peter O'Neil
CanWest News Service
Friday, November 09, 2007
STRASBOURG, France -- Canada is being urged to sign and ratify a controversial Council of Europe convention intended to battle the modern slave trade.
The council, a human rights body created in this city in 1949 on the advice of former British prime minister Winston Churchill, will enact the convention next year to battle the trafficking of people - mostly women and children - for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labour.
A conference Thursday heard grim accounts of recent events that underscore the inability of authorities to publicize and crack down on one of organized crime's most lucrative industries.
John Austin, a member of the British House of Commons, noted that British media, the public and police have largely ignored the recent story of 48 trafficked children who went missing while in the protective custody of social service agencies in England.
The children, aged 10 to 17 and mostly girls from Africa and China, are believed to be back in the hands of organized crime figures who originally smuggled them into England to work as child prostitutes.
Meanwhile, the British media, the public and authorities obsess every day about the whereabouts of a pretty blond four-year-old, Madeleine McCann, who went missing over the summer in Portugal.
"I find the dramatic contrast between (public attention to) the worldwide search for Madeleine, and the plight of 48 missing children in Britain, extraordinary," Austin said.
In a later interview, Austin urged countries like Canada to adopt the convention.
That view was echoed officially by Matjaz Gruden, a special adviser to Council of Europe secretary-general Terry Davis.
"It's in the clear interest of Canada and the European countries that are members of the Council of Europe" to ratify the convention, Gruden said.
"We cannot do these things alone. We cannot even do it on a continental basis. I mean, Europe is a big place, but these are issues where you need global co-operation in order to be successful."
The council is made up of 47 European members. Five more - Canada, the Holy See, the United States, Japan and Mexico - have observer status. Canadian officials and parliamentarians have participated in the formulation of modern council conventions in areas such as counter-terrorism, cybercrime, the sexual exploitation of children, and trafficking, Gruden said.
Canadian officials were unable Thursday to explain Canada's position on the trafficking convention, although Justice Canada said on its website that it is following United Nations' resolutions denouncing people-trafficking.
"The government of Canada is working to combat trafficking in persons both domestically and internationally."
Gruden noted that many European countries have voiced concern over the strong provisions in the Council of Europe convention intended to protect victims.
The convention calls on authorities to treat trafficked people as victims, provide them with "physical and psychological assistance and support for their reintegration into society."
While all council members have signed the treaty, only 10 countries so far have ratified it. Some governments are dragging their feet because of concern that the victim-protection provisions could be used to prevent states from expelling illegal migrants.
"What they were afraid of is that it would create a loophole for illegal immigration," Gruden said.