Friday January 29, 2010

Canadian Bishops Release Letter on Human Trafficking at Vancouver Olympics

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

OTTAWA, January 29, 2010 ( – A pastoral letter on human trafficking within the context of preparations for the 2010 Olympic Games to be held in Vancouver has been issued by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The pastoral letter begins with a reference to Senator Mobina Jaffer’s statement of November 14, 2007 on the potential for the sexual exploitation of women and children at the Vancouver Olympics.

Senator Jaffer, quoting from a report by the Future Group entitled “Faster, Higher, Stronger: Preventing Human Trafficking at the 2010 Olympics” said there is a “startling link between international sporting events and an upsurge in the demand for prostitution, which can fuel human trafficking. It specifically found that there was an increase of 95 per cent in the number of human trafficking victims identified by Greek authorities during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.”

The Canadian bishops say that groups involved in the struggle against human trafficking are worried that the Vancouver Olympics will be seen by some as an opportunity to make money, no matter the cost to human dignity and human rights. “The fact is that at some major sporting events, systems are often put in place to satisfy the demand for paid sex. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the case during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.”

“As pastors of the Catholic Church in Canada, we denounce human trafficking in all its forms,” the pastoral letter declares, “whether it is intended for forced labour (domestic, farm or factory work) or for sexual exploitation (whether it be prostitution, pornography, forced marriages, strip clubs, or other).”

Senator Jaffer described the two aspects of concern over trafficking at the Vancouver Games: “first, that a short-term increase in demand for prostitution during the games could be filled by human trafficking victims; and second, that the traffickers may attempt to bring trafficked persons posing as ‘visitors’ into Canada for the Olympics, only to exploit them in other cities or transit them to the United States.”

The pastoral letter notes that the “scale of human trafficking is alarming. While it is difficult to find precise figures, the International Labour Organization (ILO) nevertheless estimates that 2.4 million people are victims of trafficking; 1.3 million of these are involved in various forms of sexual exploitation.”

In response to the growth in this type of organized crime the bishops first of all urge the faithful to become informed about human trafficking, whether it takes place in the “impoverished populations of the South and East” or on our own doorstep where “Canadian aboriginal women and young girls disappear from their villages and are never seen again.”

“We invite the faithful to become aware of this violation of human rights and the trivialization of concerns about prostitution. Following the example of Jesus, who came into the world so that people ‘may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10), we can share in the suffering of the victims and change the behaviours and mentalities that foster institutionalized violence in this new form of slavery which is human trafficking.”

After becoming aware that human trafficking is happening in Canada, the bishops encourage Canadians “to recognize it, talk about it with others, and take action in our communities to stop it.”

“Many avenues exist to help solve this problem,” the bishops’ letter explains. “We can support organizations that work with those who are victims of human trafficking, and also ask our governments to set up programs to educate people and to prevent violence against women. To help women break free of prostitution, as they are generally the victims, we must provide concrete assistance: including health care, psychological counselling, detoxification programs, safe housing, decent employment, and spiritual support.”

The pastoral letter concludes with encouragement to pray for those exploited by human trafficking and for the groups who struggle against it.

“Our prayers will also strengthen the hope of those many people whose liberty and humanity have been taken from them by trafficking and the courage of those groups that assist them. May our faith and outrage spur us to get involved, individually and together, for the transformation of our world!”

More information on the trafficking of women and children is available on the website of the Canadian Religious Conference, under the heading “CRC Priorities.”

The full text of the Canadian Bishops Pastoral Letter on Human Trafficking is available here.


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