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Canadian context: colonialism & anti-trafficking

Now that we have had a basic introduction to human trafficking, it is important to develop an understanding of the relationship between colonialism and Canada’s anti-trafficking policies:

  • Colonialism, a historical and ongoing system of oppression in Canada, is the domination and exploitation of a land, the Indigenous persons living in relationship with the land, and the land’s resources. Colonial law disproportionately impacts Indigenous persons because controlling Indigenous life is central to colonial laws’ purposes.
  • Along with its roots in European ideology and Christianity, colonialism is foundational to Canada’s anti-trafficking / anti-sex work policies, practices, and programs.
  • Anti-trafficking and anti-sex work policies have primarily been used to control women’s movement, sexuality, and autonomy.

The “whore stigma” is a way to control women and to limit their autonomy – whether it is economic, sexual, professional, or simply freedom of movement.

Women are brought up to think of sex workers as “bad women”. It prevents them from copying and taking advantage of the freedoms sex workers fight for, like the occupation of nocturnal and public spaces, or how to impose a sexual contract in which conditions have to be negotiated and respected. Whorephobia operates as a way of controlling and policing women’s behaviour, just as homophobia does for men.

Thierry Schaffauser – Whorephobia affects us all
  • Indigenous women have been specifically targeted by the Colonial state’s efforts to control women. The Royal Proclamation 1763, the Gradual Civilization Act 1857, the Enfranchisement Act 1869, and the Indian Act 1876 have each sought to make Indigenous women the ‘property’ of men, and normalize any violence enacted against them.
  • Although Indigenous communities traditionally honour women’s bodies, sexual autonomy, and gender fluidity, Indigenous women have been stigmatized by colonial narrative as the “sexually licentious savage,” that “needs saving,” and the “dissolute, bearer of sinister influences,” (Hunt).
  • Colonial domination and law-making have created a socio-cultural environment that stigmatizes and criminalizes persons involved in the sex industry.
  • Through the dual impact of colonialism and anti-sex work policies, sex industry stigma and criminalization especially impact Indigenous women, trans, and Two-Spirit persons in the sex industry.

State-sanctioned trafficking

Although Canada legislates policy and practice that claims “anti-trafficking” intentions, state-sanctioned trafficking of Indigenous persons and communities is an historical and ongoing tool of colonization, and includes:

  • Relegation of Indigenous communities to reserves:
    • Remote/rural living conditions also forces Indigenous communities to increasingly engage in rural-urban migration in order to survive in the capitalist economy
  • The Sixties’ Scoop & the Millennial Scoop: the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and placement into the child welfare or foster care system.
  • The residential school system: the forced separation and assimilation of Indigenous youth from their families and culture, and into Church-ran schools, exposing youth to physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse.
    • Residential schools have led to a loss of culture; language; traditional values, parental practices, and life skills; difficulty forming relationships and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope with painful memories (Native Women’s Association of Canada, 2014).
  • Starlight tours“: an ongoing and incredibly dangerous police tactic in which Indigenous persons are driven to far and isolated places, and left to find their way home. It is not uncommon for someone to not survive this process, particularly in the winter months.
  • Forced removal and unlawful arrests of Indigenous Land Defenders from Wet’suwet’en Land: Indigenous communities have been resisting forced movement since colonial contact, as such, this event is not unique.

These are only a few examples of how the Canadian government and law enforcement engages in human trafficking practices to further their interests and in violation of Indigenous communities basic human, legal, and collective rights. While it is always important to be aware of the historic and ongoing harms of colonialism, service providers must also maintain a critical mind when interpreting government policy or programs. As will be discussed in the next topic, the decisions and policies made by officials responding to human trafficking are often in direct opposition to the needs of those impacted by their laws or by trafficking itself.

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