On Monday night I attended Benjamin Perrin’s book tour in Vancouver for Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking. The tour began in Toronto and has already hit several cities on its way across the country.
As I sat in a coffee shop yesterday reading the book before the event, there were moments I had to put it down and allow my mind to really process what I was reading. I thought I was somewhat knowledgeable about human trafficking in Canada, but the stories, facts, and information in Perrin’s book have moved me to the core and helped me realize I have so much still to learn.
The place was packed and more seats had to be brought in. I sat between one of Perrin’s law school colleagues and some of his students from UBC. Within a few minutes our conversation was in full swing, and I really got the sense that people are curious, intrigued, and disturbed about this phenomenon that is being brought to their attention.
The event kicked off with a powerful short film that gave an overview of the issue. It included testimonies from young victims who were being sold for sex at truck stops in the U.S. and victims from Romania who were deceived by traffickers. It also summarized Perrin’s experience in Cambodia, which served to set the stage for the work he does today. I was delighted to see that a section of our documentary was used in this introduction film as well.
Perrin talked about ‘micro-brothels,’ Craigslist, Aboriginal trafficking, and how Pearson and Vancouver airports have reportedly been infiltrated by organized crime who get their associates hired to work there. He told story after story of foreign victims who came to Canada and found themselves being sold for sex in various cities across the country, and domestic victims that were sold by their ‘boyfriends.’ Perrin had a very engaging, personable way of speaking and even managed to occasionally throw in some cheesy humour to alleviate the heaviness in the room…much appreciated by many, I am sure!
After the talk we had some Q & A, and a rep from the UBC student paper asked about the rights of women who choose to be prostitutes, touching on the issue of legalization. Perrin said this:
“When responding to sex workers who choose their profession, I say “thank you for speaking out. But I am speaking for the 85-95% of those in the sex trade who don’t have the luxury of driving down to the CTV station tonight to talk about their rights. Studies show that up to 95% of women in the sex trade desperately want out but have no exit strategy. You can imagine if I told you there was asbestos in the walls of this room. 95% of us will get cancer. How many would say: ‘but 5% won’t get cancer, so let’s just leave the asbestos in the walls.’ When you are making public policy you have to take into account the most vulnerable.”
After the talk everyone had the opportunity to check out some tables set up by anti-trafficking organizations and get their copies of Invisible Chains signed by Perrin. I had the honour of meeting and interviewing the mother of a Canadian trafficking victim who is still missing (a post on this coming soon), and reconnect with Michelle Miller who we interviewed for our documentary last year.
If book sales alone were the measure for success, the Invisible Chains Vancouver event would certainly be described as such! Check Benjamin Perrin’s website for more info on human trafficking in Canada, and buy his book here. And just so you know, part of the proceeds are going to help victims of trafficking rebuild their lives! Expect a book review soon.