In Her Words: The fight against sex trafficking in Canada

For 11 years, he has combed the streets of Calgary, often undercover, attempting to dismantle a clandestine crime that can be misunderstood.

“The trafficking that we see in Calgary, in Alberta and more often or not in Canada, is not what you see in Taken. It’s happening in a much more organic level than what Hollywood would depict,” said Det. Paul Rubner with the Calgary Police Service Vice Unit.

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. Rubner is showing us one of Calgary’s last remaining strolls.

The internet has made things exponentially more difficult. Airbnb has made things exponentially more difficult,” he said, adding the women who are out on the street are often doing it for “survival sex” to pay their groceries and bills; some live in the area.

Rubner has spent a big chunk of his career rescuing young people and adults from the sex trade with a big focus on those who are being sold for sex by traffickers.

“Anecdotally, I would estimate there’s right around 500 youth being exploited in Calgary at any given time to varying degrees,” Rubner said.

It’s estimated that up to 3,000 Calgary women are being trafficked at any given time in Calgary, but it’s a tough crime to put a number on. Victims are often fearful to come forward, press charges and testify in court.

“They have to go to court and tell their story probably for the third or fourth time and their alleged abuser will be in the same courtroom,” said Rubner who drives down the “stroll” for a second time.

It doesn’t take long before we are pulled over by a patrol officer, thinking it’s a John doing laps.

“I thought that was you,” said the uniformed officer.

“What’s her story?” asks Rubner, pointing to a young girl wearing an orange toque sitting on the corner of the street.

“She works out here part-time, kind of a hard-luck case… She’s just 20,” said the police officer.

“Let her know if she wants a clean safe bed to be in for the next year, let me know. I can have there in two hours,” said Rubner.

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