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Experts accuse province of axing human trafficking office's budget

By Erica Bulman, 24 Hours Vancouver

As the federal government beefs up efforts to fight human trafficking, the province where most of it happens is cutting back, says a leading expert in the field.

UBC law professor Benjamin Perrin charged Tuesday that B.C.'s human trafficking department budget has quietly been slashed by 40 per cent and the position of a senior official axed. This happened, he said, in spite of the first-ever charges laid in B.C. for human trafficking cases involving allegations of domestic servitude.

The move, said Perrin, was made by the Solicitor General's office, which reduced funding to the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) to less than $300,000 annually.

"That's about the amount a sex trafficker earns per year from exploiting just one victim," Perrin, a leading expert on human trafficking, told 24 hours.

The Solicitor General denied budget cuts but acknowledged OCTIP has joined with another department.

"However, it remains a distinct entity with a clear focus and mandate," Shirley Bond said in a statement.

In an email obtained by 24 hours, a senior B.C. government official informed Perrin of the cuts and the elimination of executive director Robin Pike's position.

"The Victoria office is closing," the official wrote.

According to the official, the budget was cut by some $200,000 and OCTIP was reduced to a two-person operation in Vancouver, singled out by the U.S. state department as a hub for smuggling people into North America.

The move comes just months after Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised a $20-million National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking by 2012. Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario also launched major initiatives.

Started in 2007, OCTIP has helped more than 100 trafficked people across B.C.

Less than two months ago, Bond declared, "Human trafficking is unacceptable, and this is the reason the B.C. government created the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons."

In June, the RCMP reported 74 traffickers were being prosecuted across Canada.

"I'm used to pushing countries like Cambodia to improve its response," Perrin said. "I never thought I'd have to be focusing on my own province."