Trafficking cuts decried
After battling to bring attention to the issue of modern-day slavery, the mother of a missing Kamloops woman said she feels let down by recent changes to the province’s human-trafficking office.
The B.C. Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) had four staff members, with a focus on Victoria and Vancouver.
But, last month, the Solicitor General’s office eliminated OCTIP’s executive director position and decided not to replace a staff member on maternity leave.
Glendene Grant, whose daughter Jessie Foster went missing in Las Vegas five years ago, argued now is not the time to cut back on efforts to fight human trafficking.
“This isn’t the time to close things down — it’s just getting started,” she said of the work to get attention drawn to the issue.
Foster went missing in 2006 in one of the most well-known cases of suspected human trafficking.
As critics decry what they see as cuts to the province’s human trafficking office, the government is defending the changes.
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said OCTIP has not been cut, but rather rolled into Community Safety and Crime Prevention Branch (CSCPB) and will remain a distinct entity with a clear focus and mandate.
A ministry spokeswoman did acknowledge the elimination of the executive director position, but said the budget for this year will remain the same as in previous years at $300,000.
“This move will ensure the office’s sustainability and growth through a greater access to resources and expertise,” said minister Shirley Bond through a statement from her office.
“The CSCPB has almost 100 staff members who are responsible for services to victims of crime, violence against women programs and crime-prevention initiatives.
“These changes mean that B.C. will deliver a better service and ultimately respond even more effectively to human trafficking over the long term.”
As for the decision to not replace the staff member on leave, the ministry said the person has highly specialized expertise and, rather than finding a replacement, her work will done by other staff in the CSCPB.
OCTIP runs a 24/7 victims support hotline, co-ordinates victim services, trains front-line responders and raises public awareness about the crime.
However, activists against human trafficking like Grant are not happy with the changes.
“Who’s going to stand up for the other victims in our province?” Grant asked.
“Who’s going to do anything for the rescued victims.”
Grant not only wants the province to restore the office, but said the government should be doing more to help victims, such as offering housing, medical and educational opportunities to the rescued.
The Kamloops mother is not alone in her frustration.
Benjamin Perrin, a human-trafficking expert and assistant professor at the UBC Faculty of Law, blasted the cuts to OCTIP.
He’s not only calling for the province to restore the cuts, but wants to see additional funding to the office.
“Police and non-governmental organizations combatting human trafficking need further support from the province,” Perrin said.
The federal government recently promised a national action plan to fight human trafficking, pledging $20 million starting in 2012.