Daphne Bramham: Domestic human trafficking requires homegrown solutions


Resources should focus on eliminating root causes of the problem

Reza Moazami is shown the prisoner’s box in this court drawing.

Reza Moazami is shown the prisoner’s box in this court drawing.

Photograph by: Felicity Don, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Human trafficking conjures images of people — “foreigners” mostly — being moved surreptitiously across borders, chained to beds or kept in windowless rooms.

That happens. But what’s more pervasive is the coerced movement of homegrown victims within Canada.

It’s done in plain sight on taxis, buses and airlines, with the victims kept on electronic leashes and imprisoned in hotels and swanky condos.

Reza Moazami was one of those traffickers. Last week, the 29-year-old was the first in British Columbia — although not the first in Canada — to be convicted under the Criminal Code section for domestic trafficking.

(Based on the testimony of 11 victims, Moazami was also convicted on 29 other counts including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual interference, living off the avails of prostitution and procuring girls as young as 14 to work for him.)

Moazami’s victim, referred to in the court as J.C., was adopted at the age of three into what the judge described as a “very unstable home.” At 16, she was in foster care. And when she met Moazami at 19, she had just been kicked out of a residential treatment centre.

He offered her a place to live. But he also took her with him to work as a prostitute in Calgary and Edmonton.

The U.S. Department of State’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report notes that Canada has good laws. But there’s been a reluctance to prosecute.

“Some judges and prosecutors demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, including the subtle forms of coercion used by traffickers, leading them to categorize trafficking cases as other crimes, bring civil charges instead of criminal charges or acquit traffickers,” it said.

Police are often reluctant to investigate and prosecutors are hesitant to take cases to court “due to their belief that proving exploitation to judges is exceedingly difficult,” according to the report.

In her decision in the Moazami case, Justice Catherine Bruce noted that the bar for conviction is high, requiring prosecutors to prove the trafficker’s intent and, if there was no force used, to prove that the victim was coerced.

Moazami’s lawyer argued that the young woman went willingly with him to Calgary and Edmonton, but Justice Bruce said simply: “Consent is not a defence.”

The issue, the judge wrote in her 186-page decision, is: “Could Mr. Moazami’s conduct, in all the circumstances, have led J.C. to believe that her safety or the safety of a person known to her would be threatened if she failed or refused to provide prostitution services?”

Justice Bruce’s conclusion was overwhelmingly yes.

Moazami was older, in a position of power, and he manipulated her into continuing to work as a prostitute when she no longer was willing, the judge determined, “by oscillating between being the ‘nice guy’ and the abusive, aggressive and angry guy.”

He provided her with a place to live, kept her under strict control, insisted on everything from what she should wear to what she could eat (no chocolate). He gave her drugs, isolated her from friends outside the sex trade and made her fear the police.

He intimidated her with threats of violence, often breaking her cellphones when angry. And she’d heard from other girls how Moazami had assaulted them.

The prosecutors weren’t able to meet that high bar with a second count of trafficking.

The judge said Moazami’s attempts to sell a 16-year-old to another pimp demonstrated “essentially, she was a piece of property that belonged to him.”

But that wasn’t enough.

The young woman (identified as H.W.), who was 19 when she testified, was such a hostile witness that Justice Bruce ruled she would give no weight to her uncorroborated evidence. And, there was no corroborating evidence that he threatened to harm her or her family or of her claims about him using violence against her.

There was enough evidence, however, to convict Moazami of sexually exploiting her, procuring her for prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution.

Regardless of whether the victims are Canadian or foreign born, they share common attributes. They are poor, desperate and vulnerable.

None of the 11 women whose testimony convicted Moazami was aboriginal.

But in Canada, it’s aboriginal girls and women who are most vulnerable due to poverty, addictions and mental health problems.

It makes them easy prey for traffickers, a recently released study by Public Safety Canada says, with trafficking part of a “continuum of related phenomena involving the criminal victimization of aboriginal women and girls.”

There is a need for more trafficking investigations and prosecutions. But enforcement isn’t the sole answer.

More resources need to be put into eliminating the root causes.

That means ensuring fewer children are raised in poverty and in dysfunctional families. It means more youth addiction treatment facilities.

And it means more education because no person should ever be sold or bought.


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Reza Moazami is shown the prisoner’s box in this court drawing.

Reza Moazami is shown the prisoner’s box in this court drawing.

Photograph by: Felicity Don, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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