In what advocates are hailing as a decision that will see sex traffickers spend more time behind bars across the country, a Manitoba court of appeal has overturned the 15-month sentence of a Winnipeg man — and instead, he will spend five years behind bars after exploiting a 16-year-old girl.
The three judges in the case, justices Holly Beard, Christopher Mainella and Janice leMaistre, said they overturned Scott Christopher Alcorn’s 15-month sentence in the hopes of better protecting children.
“It is necessary to turn a new page from the past and embark on a fresh sentencing approach which focusses on greater offender accountability through increased sentences,” the trio say in their decision, dated Dec. 9.
Cathy Peters, an anti-trafficking expert based in B.C., said “Indigenous children are the most vulnerable in our country, all of Canada for the sex industry.”
“They are being targeted aggressively,” she said.
“COVID has made this way worse because most of this, 90 per cent of the luring is done online and 13 years old is the average age of recruitment in the sex industry. But for the Indigenous girls, it’s much, much younger.”
While the longer sentence is a good thing, said Peters, she said she wants to see it go “way higher.”
“This is such a lucrative crime… Sex traffickers make hundreds of thousands of dollars per victim.”
Vulnerable girl targeted
The case began in 2015, according to the Dec. 9 decision, when an Indigenous girl, identified as D.R., spoke to Alcorn, 39, on social media.
The girl, who had turned 16 two days before, told Alcorn she was lonely, and Alcorn and the girl agreed to sex so long as he provided her with alcohol.
D.R. was in the child welfare system and was dealing with mental health issues, trauma and addiction, the judges said.
Alcorn knew the girl was underage.
“She lost her sister to suicide in 2013 and was engaging in survival sex, trading her body for money or alcohol,” the judges wrote.
D.R. was already intoxicated when the pair met, and Alcorn gave the girl an additional 60-ounce bottle of rum. The pair were secretly recorded having sex by the owner of the house, who was later charged, the judges write.
After a trial, Alcorn was “convicted of one count of obtaining sexual services for consideration from a person under the age of 18.” He was given a 15-month sentence, which was essentially time served.
The Crown appealed the sentence.
Read the judges’ full decision below:
The judges said it’s impossible to talk about sex trafficking in Canada without also talking about race, and Peters agreed.
“Fifty-four per cent of the sex trade are Indigenous; 70 to 90 per cent are Indigenous who are in urban centres. They are severely overrepresented in the sex industry,” said Peters.
“This is, as far as I’m concerned, the worst case of systemic racism in the country.”
Canada, the child sex trafficking destination
Canadians would be shocked to know that Canada is considered a child sex trafficking destination, partly due to our lax laws, Peters said.
“I got that from …. the Trafficking in Persons Report that’s put out every year by the U.S. State Department,” Peters said.
There are four reasons Canada falls behind in this area, she added, including globalization, unregulated technology, limited law enforcement and “very little prevention education.”
Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas agreed.
“We know it’s deep and it’s different in every community as well. The socioeconomic conditions are different in the Greater Toronto Area than downtown Winnipeg,” said Chrismas, who is the author of Sex Industry Slavery: Protecting Canada’s Youth.
“What we found in my research in Winnipeg is that a lot of people are doing it for survival sex, and they’re being exploited by people who are known to them as in this case.
“So there is there’s just greater awareness needed all around about the indicators and how we can respond when we see it.”
Peters added that schools are becoming recruiting grounds for gangs and sex trafficking.
“You need to be very much aware of this. You want your school liaison officers to be in the school.”
Joy Smith, the founder of the Joy Smith Foundation, which works to end human trafficking, said the updated sentence still falls short, and cannot match the damage done.
“It should be longer. That’s not long enough,” Smith told Global News, noting the child’s life was ruined.
“I’ve worked with many survivors of human trafficking, many children who have been exploited — not only sexually exploited but also bought and sold by traffickers to other people — and they go through post-traumatic stress, they go through trauma-risk related kind of behaviours.”
“Their lives are never the same, they require a lot of counselling, they never get over it.”
Smith, a former MP who is credited with amending Canada’s Criminal Code to make tougher sentences for sex traffickers, says while Manitoba is ahead of other provinces in terms of addressing sex trafficking, more work still needs to be done, starting with public education.
“I think in Manitoba we need to do a fulsome prevention program that goes into all the schools so kids know how prevention works,” she said, adding that it’s naive for parents to not want their children educated on human trafficking.
“It doesn’t matter how good of a parent you are, when traffickers get into the child’s mind, and they often do that over the internet or otherwise, they come on as their friends and lure them away from their support systems like their families,” Smith said.
Smith says it’s something that should concern everyone, even those without children.
“It costs close to $600,000 to rehabilitate one human trafficking victim. By the time they go through the court system, the hospitals, the counselling — the research shows $600,000 for one victim,” she added.
“So people should be interested even if they don’t have children, because that’s tax dollars, in that sense. But the thing that’s important is saving young lives so they grow up well-balanced and don’t have that horrid nightmare of being sexually exploited or manipulated or trafficked. It changes their lives horrendously.”
If you know or suspect someone is being trafficked, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline number at 1-833-900-1010 or visit canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca.
— with files from Marney Blunt