Book Review: Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance Among Indigenous and Racialized Women

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance among Indigenous and Racialized Women. By Julie Kaye. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. xxii, 279 p. Includes appendices, endnotes, bibliographic references, and index. ISBN 978-1-4875-2161-5 (softcover) $29.95.

Reviewed by Angela Gibson
Library Support Assistant
Bora Laskin Law Library, University of Toronto
In CLLR 43:1

With the federal government’s renewed commitment to improved relations with Indigenous peoples and its desire to showcase our country as one that welcomes newcomers and embraces multiculturalism, Canada must not only acknowledge its history of oppression of Indigenous peoples and migrants, but also must confront the ways in which government institutions, law enforcement agencies, and non-governmental organizations continue to uphold this legacy of oppression.

Julie Kaye, an assistant professor with the Department of Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, puts this ugly truth at the centre of her book on human trafficking in Canada and demonstrates how anti-trafficking efforts have done more harm than good to the people they aim to serve. Kaye draws on feminist, anti-colonial, Indigenous, and postcolonial development theories in her critical analysis of anti-trafficking responses by the federal and provincial governments and by Canadian NGOs, but her focus is on analyzing these responses from the perspective of settler colonialism theory.

Kaye’s goal for the book was to demonstrate that in a context of settler colonialism, Canadian anti-trafficking responses and other anti-violence initiatives reproduce structures of domination more often than addressing ongoing forms of dispossession that continue to naturalize inequalities and produce contexts in which trafficking and varying forms of violence occur (p 3-4).

In the introductory chapter, she describes the characteristics of the settler colonial relationship and the qualitative research she conducted for the book, which consisted of one-on-one conversational interviews, group interviews, and focus groups with people involved in anti-trafficking work or areas affected by anti-trafficking discourses in Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg. Kaye also conducted a media and website review of government agencies and NGOs involved in anti-trafficking efforts.

Within the framework of settler colonialism, Kaye emphasizes the problematic nature of the discourse and narrative that drive anti-trafficking efforts in Canada, and how the language of these efforts serves to uphold and reinforce the values of the established patriarchy rather than truly support the people they claim to protect. Her argument is an important one, but her message is sometimes lost due to its dense language. The book is at its most accessible and enlightening when the author references her qualitative research and provides direct quotations from the interviewees.

The book addresses the narrative around human trafficking and its development and specific topics such as (mis)representations of human trafficking victims and purveyors, the conflation of human trafficking with sex work, and the criminalization of human trafficking. While the Canadian experience is central to Kaye’s work, she also touches on the international perspective. She analyzes the problems associated with describing human trafficking as “domestic” and “international” and reviews international and national legislation as they relate to human trafficking.

Appendices include a list of organizations represented by the research participants as well as questions used in conversations with the participants. An extensive list of references demonstrates the range of disciplines from which Kaye draws her research, and a useful index allows readers to access information on specific individuals and organizations.

Kaye’s work is a significant addition to the academic literature on anti-trafficking efforts in Canada and should be included in academic library collections. It will be of interest to upper-year and graduate students and faculty with research interests in policymaking as it relates to anti-trafficking, as well as in settler colonial studies and indigenous studies.

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