By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
The RCMP in Nunavut have long “suspected” Inuit parents of selling their children to pimps and human traffickers, but are not aware of a person being charged.
That doesn’t mean it’s not happening said Iqaluit RCMP Sgt. Yyonne Niego.
“This kind of thing is a little deeper in the community and doesn’t always surface. There are perhaps some individuals who have suspected things, like myself, I have suspected it for a while,” said Niego, an Inuk, who grew up in Nunavut.
Niego, and the RCMP, helped Ottawa-area consultant Helen Roos on a report, funded by the Department of Justice, aimed at highlighting Nunavut’s secret.
The report claims to have anecdotal evidence of Inuit parents selling their children to people with bad intentions, such as putting them in prostitution.
Niego said the Mounties assisted Roos by providing information and assistance in the hopes of creating exposure.
“It is about bringing an awareness to the community so that things will start to be reported to the police,” she said. “It’s a very hidden kind of aspect to life in the North. There are difficulties in grasping it.”
The biggest barrier is a wall of secrecy around the small communities in Nunavut said Suny Jacob, executive director of the Qimaavik women’s shelter in Iqaluit.
“People don’t want to report due to fear. They’re afraid of community members in their community. They’re not prepared to file a police report,” said Jacob.
But when they get to Jacob, and the shelter, some of the stories trickle out.
“They hear so many stories in their community from different people. Many are members of their family or someone in their community. They hear stories where girls have been taken for prostitution,” said Jacob.
Jacob said stories at the shelter involve Inuit families being paid thousands of dollars for the young girls.
She’s heard they mostly end up in Winnipeg but that’s never been confirmed.
One, she said, was a story of a nine-year-old girl.
Roos said while researching she was told stories of men trying to buy Inuit babies from their mothers as they left the hospital.
It didn’t appear anyone was successful, but it does raise the question as to why someone would be trying to buy a baby.
“There’s lot’s of stories,” said Roos. “When we did a roundtable with 25 key stakeholders … one of the physicians pulled me aside and said this is what happened to a patient. Someone tried to buy her baby.”
Another person told Roos their neighbours tried to sell their baby for $20,000. In some cases, they apparently use Facebook.
Other examples include women, or young teenagers, heading south on a trip and they are never heard from again.
“Often we have local parents … who don’t know too much about the dangers in the south. Younger adults go to the south on visits and (parents) may lose contact with them,” said Niego.
Jacob said last summer the RCMP came to take statements from women at the shelter about their human trafficking stories, but when a female Mountie showed up nobody would cooperate and give a statement.
“Nobody wants to come forward to police,” said Jacob. “They don’t want to talk to police. They don’t trust the police. They also fear if their name comes out (that they spoke to the police) and go back to their communities they’re going to get more abuse.”
Jacob said they continue to hold workshops in hopes of breaking through the barriers.