When Jay and I got married, our first apartment was on Mohawk Road in Hamilton, Ontario. It was more of a glorified attic really, but after cleaning, painting, and furnishing the place, it felt like home.
It had a grocery store, a bakery, and a library nearby. High school students walked past it on their way to and from school. It was on a major bus route.
It was also on the same street as a house in which human trafficking victims were being held in the basement.
Brother and sister Attila and Gisela Kolompar were recently sentenced in Canada’s largest human trafficking case to date, for keeping labour trafficking victims confined in their basement and forcing them to work in construction seven days a week for no pay. As this Spec article explains, they ate scraps, had their identification seized and were instructed to make false refugee and welfare claims. They never saw their benefit money or wages, and were punished when they tried to escape.
Ironic. There Jay and I were, preparing to make our documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, while down the street labour trafficking victims were being exploited. I can’t even express how sick I felt when I found out that human trafficking, the very thing we were trying to expose, was taking place within walking distance from our little apartment.
When Jay and I hit the road to make our film, one of the people we interviewed was Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who was in the process of writing a book entitled “Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.” He had first been exposed to sex trafficking in Cambodia, but discovered upon his return to Calgary that victims were being exploited just a few blocks down from his favourite childhood restaurant. In Perrin’s words:
“It wasn’t in a seedy area of town. It was in a house, a residence like any other. You would have no idea driving down the street that there were victims of modern day slavery in that neighbourhood.”
Another story – when our friend Tara Teng was 18 years old, she lived with her family in a middle class Canadian neighbourhood in Langley, British Columbia. As she got to know her neighbours, she learned that their daughter had been trafficked as 14 years old by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend. This incident, which deeply affected people Tara knew and loved, sparked a fire in her to abolish human trafficking – and even led her to win the title of Miss Canada 2011 so she could use that as a platform to raise awareness about this horrendous crime.
Is slavery happening in our backyard? Absolutely.
This is just one of the reasons we need to get to know our neighbours. To be on the lookout. To be alert when we go about our daily lives.
If you are in the U.S. and want to report a tip, call 1-888-373-7888. Don’t know what signs to look for? Here are some ideas. If you are want further training, consider attending the Not for Sale Abolitionist Academy in San Francisco.
I long for the day where human trafficking, abuse, exploitation, and injustice is not longer taking place in my backyard, don’t you?
NOTE: Today the kingpin of the trafficking ring that exploited the construction workers is going to court. Here is what the trafficking ring looks like in a chart, and below is the info for the court case if you can attend.