The Dallas-based company operates in 97 countries and gets most of its revenue from adult ads. In the United States, it is the subject of lawsuits, and its executives are also facing criminal charges for pimping and money laundering. The charges filed by California's Attorney-General allege that in seven of the 13 pimping counts the victims are children.
In January, after a U. Senate inquiry published scathing findings, among them that the company "knowingly concealed evidence of criminality," Backpage abruptly shut down its U. Not so in Canada, where there has been little or no legal action and tepid federal government response.
The ads continue to be uploaded hourly. The site's prevalence raises thorny questions. Some police see it as a useful investigative tool in finding and reaching victims and say shutting it down would only result in new sites popping up. Child advocacy and anti-trafficking groups, however, say it is facilitating criminal activity, including child trafficking, and needs to be stopped.
Actions against the company in the United States "beg the same question about what should be happening in the Canadian context," said Signy Arnason, associate executive director and director of Cybertip. And within there, there are definitely youths who are being exploited in this capacity.
Liz McDougall, general counsel who speaks for Backpage, said the company "can't comment currently. Kevin Coon, managing partner at global law firm Baker McKenzie, said the company "is the key purveyor for these ads here in Canada as well. It's very unknown but it is insidious, and that service is the major advertiser and exploiter in the industry. He said it is "running afoul" of Criminal Code provisions on the purchase of sex.
Anybody can go on the website and see how prevalent it is," said Mr. Coon, who specializes in human rights and labour rights, adding that the federal government "has a key role to play" in legislative action and in enforcing existing laws and raising awareness. Canada's national action plan on human trafficking expired last year, and Public Safety Canada did not say when a new plan would be announced.
Under Canadian law, it is prohibited to advertise sexual services and to procure the sexual services of someone under the age of But whether it is due to a dearth of enforcement, other priorities among governments or a need for new legislation, the ads flourish.
Across Canada, an average of 1, new adult-services ads which include female escorts and body rubs are posted on Backpage every day, according to Uncharted Software, a Toronto-based software and data visualization firm. It pegs the number of unique ads in Toronto alone at about a day. By its count, Backpage hosts about 60 per cent of all the online adult ads in Canada, making it the largest provider in the country.
Backpage has location sites, according to this year's U. It is the world's No. The Senate report cites the National Association of Attorneys General in describing Backpage as a "hub" of human trafficking, "especially the trafficking of minors. Backpage "does not deny that its site is used for criminal activity, including the sale of children for sex," the report says. Rather, the company argues it just hosts content created by others and is thus immune from liability under the U.
But the inquiry found that Backpage systematically edited its adult ads, scrubbing them of terms such as "teenage," "little girl" and "rape" before posting them. Pressure on the company is coming from many sides. Backpage is the subject of a searing new U. The film follows the legal battle that several mothers are fighting on behalf of their teenage daughters, who were trafficked and advertised on the site.
In , major credit-card companies stopped allowing their cards to be used to purchase Backpage adult ads, citing concerns about the trafficking of minors. Bitcoin is used instead. In Canada, some police see the site as a useful tool in their investigations.
If the site were shut down in Canada, "I'm sure something else would pop up within a few weeks, but then we'd be behind the eight ball trying to catch up again. Police in Ontario say Backpage is a key place where underage girls are advertised. Those in Calgary and Edmonton, however, say those types of ads are more likely to appear on free social-media sites such as Tinder. Even if the site were more regulated or shut down, some say that would not address the root of the problem, which is the demand for these services.
Nor would it change the broader issues that make children more vulnerable, such as homelessness or addiction. When the girls listed on the site are underage, Det. Hay says, odds are they have a pimp. He estimates that of all the escort ads on Backpage in his city, at least 25 per cent of the girls and women are being trafficked.
Some of these girls that we've come across haven't eaten in days, haven't slept in days, don't know what city they're in … have been beaten, abused," Det. I've been a police officer for 17 years, and this is something — I can't even wrap my head around it some days.
It's a really horrible crime. Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, regularly receives calls from family members who are searching for their missing daughters — and using Backpage to see whether they're still alive.
She estimates that about 60 per cent of the people her centre speaks with are tracking their daughters through Backpage. She thinks more enforcement is needed to tackle the demand side of the crime — the johns and pimps — and that Backpage ought to be shut down. Trafficking across Canada is a huge issue impacting women and girls in our communities," she said. In an e-mail, Public Safety Canada said the government "takes very seriously" any potential tools used to facilitate the trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
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