Human trafficking. Sex trade. We hear these words on the news, but most often, weÂ attach these terms to third-world countries, or places where civilizationÂ has yet to beÂ fully established. It is only in recent years however, that cases of human trafficking and illegal immigration in the lower mainland have been brought into light. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, ESL and language schools in Greater Vancouver were the ideal places to channel these dealings. To shed some light on the issue, I got a chance to talk to a consultant who previously worked at one of these language schools, who had seen the situation first-handed. To keep his anonymity, I will refer to him as C.
Can you tell us about the role of these language schools as well as your role in it?
C: The role of the ESL Colleges is to upgrade or teach the basics of English. The students primarily come from China. They are usually in high school (Gr. 10-12) or above and are here to prepare for studies in North America. I was essentially contracted to provide consulting services: curriculum and policy development, textbook selection, etc.
During your time at the school, what illegal acts were going on?
C: I saw evidence of the transfer of large sums of money from The Bank of China into specially designated accounts here in Canada. Typically the transfers were approximately $30K in Canadian funds per student. The “students” had student visas to study abroad and were registered at the college as full time enrolled students. There were in excess of 300 such student files in my time there, but only evidence of about 40 students actually attending the college. The fake documents were perfect replicas of a typical studentâ€™s file, complete with high school diplomas and transcripts.
What was the process behind the transactions?
C: The owner and his assistants sustained the transactions. The money transfer was done by direct transfer in advance from an agent in China. It was my assumption that money was paid at several different times. Essentially someone in China was paying to have the girls brought into Canada, so the college owner received the payments in exchange for providing a plausible scenario for a visa. There were shady people often at the school offices for meetings that I was not invited to. I guessed later that these meetings were about the transfers. It was a kind of network of businessmen all involved in the transfers for profit.
Who were these victims?
C: The victims were almost entirely female, age ranging from 15 to 21, and usually from smaller towns in China (according to the files). They were met at the airport by the owners of the college along with an older female representative from the school. She was there to calm the girls in case there was any difficulty. Some of the girls were taken to the college to begin their studies. The college provided housing assistance. Most of the girls never set foot in the college again after that first night. They were taken to various cities in Canada and I think the United States. They were provided with false documents and identification.
How did you find out about the situation?
C: In my consulting role, I had access to student files.Â I became suspicious when I saw that hundreds of files were maintained, but I only saw about 30 students physically in the college at any one time. I also saw copies and receipts from the money transfers. On numerous occasions, I witnessed female students coming to the college itself and asking and pleading to go home. Often the owners yelled and threatened them, saying if they were sent back they would be in serious trouble, maybe even with Canadian authorities.
At any point, did anyone try to pull you into the â€œbusinessâ€ as well?
C:Â Yes of course. It was clear after a while that my main role was to create and maintain the image of a functioning college. Since the owners were businessmen and knew nothing about education, they needed someone with the “right” credentials to provide the proper image. I was never directly involved in any phase of the transfer to Canada of money or people, but indirectly I was put in the role of maintaining the program in order to facilitate the illegal activity.
Â Iâ€™m sure thatÂ a lotÂ of Vancouverites donâ€™t believe that human trafficking exists in our part of the world, so close to us. Is there anything you would like to relay to better inform those who are relatively unaware of the situation?
C: I agree with your assumption that most people are unaware of this activity and would be shocked to see to what extent it takes place in our own backyard, so to speak. Recently, the RCMP has uncovered apartments and condos where many of the girls were housed, often next to people living in nice communities. The neighbours might appear shocked when the discovery is made, but at the same time they were aware.. People should stay aware and report unusual activity to the authorities.
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