Blanca Isla Perez grew up in a small village in the sate of Tlaxcala. She was 5 years old when she began helping her mother earn money by sewing and washing clothes. At 14, she went to Mexico City to find a job as a domestic worker. By 17, she had returned and married Artemio Rodriguez, who grew up in the same town. Together, they worked his father’s land until Rodriguez began travelling annually to Canada as a migrant worker.
A family portrait that has been photoshopped together shows Blanca Isla Perez (third left) and Artemio Rodriquez (centre) with their five children. It hangs in the middle of Perez’s living room wall.
For the seven years Rodriguez worked in Canada he wrote letters to his wife and children. Isla has kept every letter her husband ever wrote to her from Canada in a dark green briefcase inside a glass cabinet in her bedroom.
Rural villages in Mexico like Perez’s are heavily dependent on remittances. Last year, the average seasonal agricultural worker in Canada brought home around $12,368 a year to their home states, after mandatory deductions in Canada like income tax, employment insurance, health insurance, and travel costs.
Jodmery Villanueva De Los Santos, 14, helps her parents pick through their corn after school in the small town of Cuijingo. Her family is one of the few in the village that does not participate in SAWP. A report by the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the North American Free Trade Agreement had a significant impact on small-scale Mexican farmers, many of whom are unable to compete with US subsidized corn production.
For part of the year, while the town’s little white-washed school is in session, Isla supports herself by waking up at 6 a.m. and setting up a small table outside selling hats, necklaces and pencils to students and parents for five pesos each.
Soledad Garcia Aguilar’s four brothers all work in Canada as seasonal agricultural workers. They are the third generation of her family to participate in guest worker programs in Canada or the US. Garcia Aguilar, a single mother, has considered going north seeking work too, but her 9-year-old daughter, Liliana, doesn’t want her to leave. Instead, Aguilar works at a local greenhouse that she busses to every morning, where she earns 1150 pesos a week, or around $75 CDN.
New migrant workers told the Star they were nervous to leave home for Canada, a country they knew almost nothing about. Their hope is to improve conditions for their family in Mexico.We were born into poor families,” says one worker “but we have imagination and ambition.”
A submission to the Canadian government from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change says many workers “feel they have no choice but to continue working under abusive conditions.” This is because their immigration status is tied to one employer, who often exerts significant control over their daily lives.
Reynaldo Garcîa Aguilar walks back to the bunkhouse he shares with eight other migrant workers from Mexico just outside of Brantford, Ontario. Aguilar has spent most of the year in Canada for the past 18 years. “Canadians, they like you if you work, but they don’t like it if you get sick,” he says. “They think we’re animals.”
Martina Garcîa Juárez, 51, a single mother and domestic violence survivor, started participating in the program in 2002. Around seven years ago, she was placed on a farm she says was abusive. She reported it to the Mexican authorities and was not called back to Canada until this year. Every year she has paid 1300 pesos, or nearly $90 CDN, for a medical exam to get clearance to come to Canada without getting a placement. When in Mexico, she works at a sewing factory to make ends meet.
A graveyard sits against the backdrop of Popocatépetl, an active volcano,in the village of Cuijingo, where a large portion of the male population goes to Canada as migrant workers. Last fall, Julio Lucio Robledo, who had been going to Canada for 26 years, died near London, ON after falling down the stairs in his bunkhouse. His brother, who is also a migrant worker, says his body stayed in Canada for a month and a local church had to pressure the authorities to repatriate him to Mexico.
Isla’s daughter, Blanca, comforts her two children, Lesli, 10, and Luis Angel, 7, on Perez’s last day in Mexico before departing to Canada. As Perez wheels her suitcase out the door, her family erupts in tears. Each year that her mother travels back to Canada, Blanca fears she will suffer an accident.
Isla calls home to her family in Mexico from her tiny, shared bedroom in Ontario and learns that her elderly mother has fallen and injured her shoulder. Distressed that she is not there to help, she bows her head in grief.
A group of Mexican migrant workers sit on the front porch of a house in Lavaltrie, Quebec, after finishing their work on a nearby farm. Some 97 per cent of workers participating in SAWP are men. As a result of complaints filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, Mexico stopped allowing employers in Canada to request workers of a specific gender in 2016.
Christ Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, an Anglican church, holds Catholic mass for Mexican migrant workers every Sunday, and provides a meal for them afterward. Perez regularly attends, and prays for her husband. Rodriguez “lives on in me and my children,” she says. “I am proud of that.”
A man sits outside of his shared one-bedroom bunkhouse at Les Jardins Vaes in Lavaltrie, Quebec.
Raised by her single mother who works as a migrant worker, Natalia Nayeli Garcîa, 19, dreams of seeing places like Niagara Falls, which she has only seen on postcards. Throughout the house the pair share are reminders of her mother’s absence – a set of Calgary mugs sit behind glass in their kitchen, and a CN tower magnet adorns their fridge.
Isla’s youngest daughter, Blanca, regularly checks in on her childhood home while her mother is working in Canada, bringing along her two children, Lesli, 10, and Luis Angel, 7.
“My dream for my own children isn’t economic,” she adds “If God helps them and gives them a good career, that is good, but if nothing else I hope they have strong values and help others. This is what I always pray for.”
Isla prepares to start work for the day on a farm in Ontario. “Canadians don’t understand the sacrifices we make,” she says.
Sanoa Olin, 12, grew up playing in the ocean and naturally gravitated towards surfing. She says her big sister, Mathea, is an inspiration to her. “I see her and I want to do what she’s doing – she’s the bar I’m reaching for right now.”
The sun sets on Cox Bay Beach, a popular surfing destination in Tofino.
Born and raised in Tofino, Sarah Sloman (centre) first tried surfing when she was 13 years old. She remembers her mom ordering a custom-made two-piece wetsuit, but by the time it arrived in the mail, she had already outgrown it and lost interest. It wasn’t until she was 19 that she fully committed. “I never stopped after that,” she said. Now, her main surfing companions are her 13-year-old twin daughters, Serena (right) and Jasmine Porter. “I think it’s pretty cool because we have a lot of people to look up to here,” Jasmine, who recently landed a sponsorship deal with XCEL said. “When my mom was growing up there wasn’t really anybody older than her that surfed.”
Bryanna Wiebe moved from Whistler to Tofino three years ago in pursuit of learning to surf, saying even thinking about it today gives her the goosebumps. “I’ve always experienced good vibes, high fives and party waves,” she said of Tofino’s waters. “It’s a form of meditation, just being in the ocean [and] feeling the waves and the movement – I’m addicted to it.”
Not to be overshadowed by her father, Canada’s first professional surfer Raph Bruhwiler, 12-year-old Aqua Bruhwiler is carving her own waves. Born and raised in Tofino, the budding surfer got her start when she was only eight years old and “just never really stopped,” she said. “It’s my passion so I want to carry it on with me to the places I go.”
Katie Elston carries her surf board on her head as she walks back from Cox Bay Beach.
Originally hailing from Ontario, Jennifer Smallwood moved to Tofino in 2001 after connecting with surfing while traveling in warmer climates. What started as a fear for the ocean developed into a love. “I think we have a playful surf community that’s inclusive – it stretches all the boundaries of young and old [and] gender[s],” she said. Compared to places like Hawaii, California and Australia, Tofino’s surf scene is young, “we’re all grommets – still frothing at the new experience,” she said.
Heavy swell rolls onto South Chesterman beach under the setting sun in Tofino, British Columbia.
Catherine Bruhwiler grew up on Chesterman Beach, at a time when only a handful of surfers were in the water. “I probably got into [surfing] by accident – just because it was something to do,” she said. “We grew up without a TV, and we were right there, so that was like our playground.” Bruhwiler became Canada’s first professional female surfer, and continues to compete for Team Canada as a surfer and stand-up paddler.
Stephanie Wightman surfed until she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child. And even though surfing changed a lot for her over the course of her pregnancy, she said “it’s just nice to be in the ocean.” Wightman joined the Surf Sister tribe when she first moved to Tofino in 2004 and has worked there ever since. As the company grew, she watched the women’s surf-scene grow with it. “I’ve never seen as many women in the water as there are here,” she said.
Born and raised in southern Vancouver Island, Tia Traviss moved to Tofino in 2004 to become a surf instructor at Surf Sister. She now works as a realtor, but reminisces about the job as if it were a dream that she still can’t believe came true. “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would be a surf instructor twice a week,” she said. “I love that job.”
As one of the first women to surf off Tofino’s coast, Shelley Renard began learning when she was 23 years old. She wanted to prove that she could be out there and catch a wave. “It was to show men that I could do as well as some of them,” she said. The 65-year-old still revisits the sport, saying that surfing fills her with euphoria. “Your whole body feels wonderful after you’ve surfed. It’s that sense that you did something in this beautiful environment that’s made you a better person,” she said.
Never Never Land
Michael Poole shaves outside his motorhome, which he lends out to friends and transients whenever he's away traveling. "I'm a homeless person," he says. "I don't really claim this as my home. I'm just another traveler who just happened to get lucky with a purchase of this particular place."
A traveler lays out a book called Les sept plumes de l'aigle by Henri Gougaud to dry under the sun after a damp night on Poole's Land.
Ben, 43, after waking up from a night under the open sky. He came to Poole's Land 15 years ago and has been returning annually ever since, mainly to visit Michael Poole. "He's just like a little piece of magic," he says. "He's different than everyone else that's got it beat into their head of how you're supposed to be. He's a really free soul."
One of the more permanent structures on Poole's Land sits tucked away near the back of the property and serves as a home to a rotating cycle of transients.
A man who goes by the name Snowflake, passes through Poole's Land. The tattoo artist said that he was kidnapped and first brought to Poole Land's when he was only 12-years-old by his schizophrenic aunt.
"The Magic Bus," as its been dubbed, serves as a home to those passing through.
Hamza Znibaa, 21, poses inside his cabin, which also serves as the greeting centre for Poole's Land.
Haley Vanwatteghem, 18, hitchhiked her way across the country from Ottawa, winding up at Poole's Land under the advice of a friend. "I've always said no plan is the best plan," she says. "I'm not freaking out about deadlines. I'm not scared about what's going to happen, or if things are going to go the way I plan. That's just been a huge fear I think so many of are burdened with and I just don't want to live like that. I don't mean screw responsibilities, I just mean take what life is trying to give you."
Don Glover, 56, has been living in Tofino for five years, but recently relocated his van, which he's been living out of for 10 years, to Poole's Land. Before moving to the property he said he was hooked on documentaries and would watch at least five or six a week. But "since living [on Poole's Land], I haven't rented one video from the library because the drama is all here," he says with a laugh. "There is drama everywhere. You can delve into it further, you can step back, but it’s there."
Nicky Lanteigne, 21, stands on the front porch of the cabin he's currently living in on Poole's Land. Originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, he travelled to the west coast to determine where he wants to create a life. "People these days don’t know how to have fun," he says. "Their fun is tv and their fun is technology. That’s what they’ve been born into – a world of electronics."
Originally from Massachusetts, Chris Holmes, 25, travelled to Tofino "for the biodiversity of these lands." He hadn't heard about Poole's Land until he arrived, but quickly felt at home on the property. He says that Poole's Land is a difficult place to describe because it changes on a weekly basis. "You could come and meet a bunch of weirdos and not like it and leave, or you could come and meet a bunch of really good friends and stay – it depends on the time of year," he says.
Quebecois Jessie Tremblay Lemieux, 25, travelled to Poole's Land from Salt Spring Island on the recommendation from a friend. "It's my kind of place," she says of the land. "In society, we live a lot like individuals. We don't share." But in Poole's Land, everyone shares with each other, and "I think that we share happiness when we're doing that," she says.
Marc Major, 49, has been living on Poole's Land for two and half years. Originally from Timmons, Ontario, he hitchhiked across the country from Saint Jean, New Brunswick. The self described "time traveler," shakes off skeptics who aren't convinced and says, "I don't need them to believe. I don't care if they believe. It's what I believe."
Man on the Mountain
Hubert (Hubie) Jim, a hereditary chief of the Lil’wat Nation, hauls a wheelbarrow toward the creek he collects his water from at Sutikalh mountain in B.C. He has lived there for nearly 20 years.
Hubie says he wouldn't wish his life of solitude on anyone, but he is committed to stay and protect the mountain. 'What I'm doing here is not just for my own family, but from everyone,' he says.
A faded map of the region and a photograph of Melvin Creek adorns Hubie’s kitchen wall.
Sutikalh's name means 'place of the winter spirit.' Hubie moved there for good when he was 37 years old, and while life in the makeshift cabin isn't easy, he says he's learned to live healthier there.
Hubie brushes his 13-year-old dog, Pip-la-shoot, which means 'all by himself.' Hubie says the dog is his best friend.
Hubie sips on salmonberry tea throughout the day.
Twenty years at Sutikalh have transformed him physically: When he first arrived, he weighed 285 pounds, drank a six-pack a day and ate lots of fried food, but now he sticks to a more Indigenous diet and has quit drinking.
Hubie hauls a log of firewood back to his shack. The mountain nearby is considered sacred traditional territory by the St'at'imc people. Petroglyphs attest to Lil’wat people, the larger nation to which the St'at'imc belong, having lived in this area more than 2,500 years ago.
Black and grizzly bears populate the area, along with mountain goats and wolverines. 'I am able to walk among them because they know I’m here to protect them, and the mountain,' Hubie says.
Hubie reaches into the creek to fill up a bucket with water. He says the water he drinks, which is filtered by the roots of the forest, is still 'alive,' whereas the tap and bottled water most people drink is dead.
In the coop he built in front of his home, Hubie feeds his rooster, Charlie, and chickens Shake 'n Bake, Extra Crispy, Mrs. Houdini and McNuggets.
To do his laundry, Hubie lets his clothes sit in various buckets filled with cold water and splashes of soap. Occasionally, he takes a wooden stick to beat the dirt out of the fabric.
Hubie mixes a tomato-based pasta sauce with rice noodles. Before he moved to the mountains, Hubie was a cook at Willie G's diner in Pemberton. He says that he stills loves to cook for people.
Hubie Jim keeps watch of his property through his living room window. He says that he can smell visitors before he sees them.
Most evenings, Hubie Jim strolls down to the bridge he built which leads onto his property, with his dog and "soul mate," Pip-la-shoot. He scours the dirt road for tire tracks, or imprints of unwanted visitors.
Talk of the Town
“In order for you to pop or to gain traction somewhere, your hometown is the market that matters the most,” Jazz Cartier said of Toronto. “They’re the ones that are going to be your biggest supporters, no matter what. So, if you shun them out or you try to go to the next city and try to do it, which a lot of people try to do, it never really works. You have to have your hometown fuck with you before anybody else does.”
Cartier ties his dreads back in between shooting looks during a photo shoot for BRICK Magazine, a publication about the new age of Hip-Hop culture, as makeup artist, Mila Victoria, looks onwards. My mom always told me whenever I left the house to make sure I looked like a million dollars “and that no one should ever question, you know, where you live and how much your parents make … that shouldn’t cross their mind,” he said. “The first thought that should cross their mind is ‘wow, look at this young man, very well put together.’”
Cartier drinks straight from a bottle of Hennessy in his trailer after performing at Field Trip Music & Arts Festival, in Toronto.
Jazz Cartier walks onto the crowd while performing at JMBLYA in Austin, Texas. “I think a lot of it came from me being the only black kid at a couple of my schools,” Cartier says of the superstar title many people attribute him with. Everyone was looking already, he said, so why not be outspoken? “I’m just used to eyes being on me.”
Fans press up against each other while cheering in the pouring rain at JMBLYA, in Austin.
Jazz Cartier and his girlfriend, Koza Kurtulus, met through mutual friends and have been together for over two years. “It’s hard,” he says of constantly being away and on the road.
Jazz Cartier attends an after-hours party in Kensington Market after playing at Field Trip Music & Arts Festival. “I think for a long time, for a good two to three years, I was kinda steering in a very wrong path, you know, partying a lot, doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot– and it just got tiring,” Cartier said. “I’m not that beast who I once was before.”
Jazz Cartier tweeted looking for a basketball court that him and his friends could play on. Alex Letros responded with a picture of his backyard court in Markham, and later hosted Cartier for a game of pick up.
Cartier raps the lyrics written down in his phone inside his studio on King Street East. “Lantz has a very big part in how I record and how I sound,” Cartier said. He knows my voice pretty much better than I know my voice. “Even sometimes I’m not as comfortable with my own voice as I may think I am, because there’s a voice in my head, then there’s a voice out loud, you know.”
Jazz Cartier smokes a cigarette inside his trailer after performing at JMBLYA, in between media interviews. “A lot of people think that cuz I went to boarding school and shit like that, that I had a silver spoon my whole fucking life,” he said. “My mom had me when she was like 19 and my dad wasn’t really in the picture. So, it was mostly her fending for us, like days where we had to split happy meals and she would eat whatever I left for her, because that’s how we had it.”
A sign outlining the “Garden Rules” sits on the floor inside Cartier’s recording studio.
In between recording vocals for one of Cartier’s new tracks, Toronto singer, Blaise Moore, lays on the couch inside Jazz’s studio at 3 a.m.. “I mean, what else am I going to do?” Cartier said of working in the studio until the early hours of the morning. “There’s not much outside there for me. I’m not going to go to a party, get drunk and, you know, get myself into some sort of trouble. Staying off the streets as much as possible is my thing, so why not be here?”
Cartier’s DJ 4th Pyramid said that Jazz often ends up sleeping on the couch inside his hotel room rather then in his own bed while touring. “When me and 4th are out there doing shows, above anything else, 4th is like a mentor to me – one of my good friends,” Cartier said.
The General Electric plant in Peterborough has been a city landmark for over a century. What was once seen as a beacon of progress, is now blamed by some as the cause of hundreds of cases of cancer developed in former workers.
Marilyn Harding worked at General Electric for almost 40 years and has survived bladder and breast cancer. A photo taken a few months after her daughter's birth shows her assembling lead heating cables, a task she completed beside an asbestos machine, which she says contaminated the entire work station.
Marilyn Harding met her husband Gerry when she was 16 at the Church of the Nazarene in Peterborough. They worked at the plant together for decades. He died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer. On special occasions like his birthday and their anniversary, Marilyn visits his grave site. "I know he's not here anymore, but you still need somewhere to come," she says on a Thanksgiving trip to the cemetery.
On Mondays and Thursdays former GE workers volunteer their time to meet across the street from the plant. For up to six hours each day, they map the usage of some of the 20 known human carcinogens formerly used in their work place. Bob DeMatteo, a retired occupational disease expert helping the group, sometimes uses a gavel to keep order during heated discussions.
An environmental study from the 1990s showed elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in aquatic life in the Otonabee River and advised consumption restrictions. Lock 19, which sits along the river, south of plant, is a popular fishing destination for locals and visitors. Rick Lefley (right), 75, a retired GE worker, has been fishing at the lock since he was 12-years-old. The Ministry of Environment is in the midst of a long term environment program to track PCBs in the Otonabee.
Peterborough's industrial legacy has left some concerned about the environment. City authorities have tackled issues like PCB contamination at old landfills like this one off Harper Road.
Roger Fowler was 46 years old when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and was forced to stop working at GE after 22 years of employment. He was left with a permanent colostomy, which has resulted in several hernias. When he needs to do any heavy lifting around the house, he wraps it with tape so the bulge doesn't interfere. Removing the tape afterward causes agonizing pain.
GE says the health and safety of its employees has always been its "number one priority." But some workers say more could have been done to protect people on the job.
Jim Dufresne worked in GE for 42 years, since he was 16 years old. He put in a claim with workers compensation for prostate cancer, which he believes was related to unsafe chemical exposure, but his claim was denied. Dufresne, 70, says he has lost so many colleagues to cancer that he now has a hard time getting close to people. "Been to 10 or 11 funerals this year and the year isn't over," he said.
GE's storm sewer system drains into Little Lake on the Otonabee River, where the Ministry of Environment is tracking PCB levels.
Roger Fowler wipes away his tears while reading one of his poems during the Celebration of Life, which is an annual event organized by former GE employees to honour those who have passed from cancer.
According to The Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, nearly 6,000 Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from Russia in 1908, settling in communal villages throughout the Kootenay-Boundary region of British Columbia, and specifically places like Grand Forks.
Tasha Kanigan says most summer days are spent with her sons, Alex, 4, (left) and Lucas, 2, playing in the garden outside their home in Winlaw, British Columbia. She says she hopes to instil them with the same values she learned through Dukhoborism.
Shane Whittleton, 26, who grew up as a Doukhobor, moved back to the area after studying and working in Alberta. He maintains a large garden not only because it's what he grew up with, but because "when the Doukhobors came here, they had nothing and the only way for them to survive was to grow their own food." Within his garden sits a building that was traditionally used as a bathhouse. Whittleton hopes to eventually restore it.
A younger photo of John J. Verigin (right), the USCC's executive director, sits in the home where his grandmother used to live, in Castlegar, British Columbia.
John J. Verigin has been serving at the USCC's executive director since 2008. He resents being called a leader, saying "we only have one leader, and that's J.C.."
As Doukhobors enter the the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ community centre in Grand Fork, British Columbia, for a payer meeting, they greet each other with a bow.
Women wearing the traditional plotochik, or shawl, assemble for a payer meeting at the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ community centre in Grand Forks, British Columbia, on Declaration Day.
Mary Verigin (left) and Katie Koochin kiss each other during a prayer meeting on Declaration Day at the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ community centre in Grand Forks, British Columbia. The kiss is symbolic of demonstrating sisterly love.
Dharia Sookaveiff (left), 15, was one of the only youth in attendance at the prayer meeting on Declaration Day at the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ community centre in Grand Forks, British Columbia.
(From left to right) Laura Savinkoff, John J. Verigin, Laura Verigin and Nina Decaire walk back after having their photos taken at the newly unveiled "Stop of Interest Sign - The Doukhobours," just outside of Grand Forks along Highway 3.
Sisters, Tony Fominoff (left) and Netta Zeberoff, sing during a gathering to commemorate Hiroshima Day outside the MIR Centre for Peace in Castlegar, British Columbia.
Tasha and John Kanigan push their sons, Lucas, 2, (left) and Alex, 4, on the swing set outside their home in Winlaw, British Columbia.
Mission of Mercy
A local woman washes her food in the Brahamputra-Jamuna River on the Dakatia Char, near Dewanganj, in northern Bangladesh. Three million people live on the chars in the Gaibanda and Kurigam districts and many are displaced from their homes yearly by catastrophic annual flooding.
Dr. Toni Zhong, director of Toronto’s University Health Network’s breast reconstruction program, examines 12-year-old Sumaiya, whose face was badly burned when she was caught in the middle of an explosion from a motorcycle shop. Dr. Zhong spent seven days on the Dakatia Char on a medical mission with Women for Women, a charity based in Germany, to perform reconstructive surgeries on burn victims.
Dr. Zhong injects cortisone into the chest scar of 7-year-old Jami in an attempt to soften a burn scar known as a keloid. Her mother worries that no one will want to marry her if she cannot grow breasts.
Dr. Zhong and the team operate on Sharifa, 9, whose blue sari caught fire while she was standing near a mud stove, causing third-degree burns to her legs.
Her parents covered the wound in banana leaves and borrowed money for a rickshaw ride to the hospital ship. Dr. Rafi Siddique, the physician in charge of the floating hospital, had to persuade them that Sharifa — just 35 pounds — was worth saving.
“When she first came in she was so malnourished, she stared at the ceiling and didn’t speak. Her jaw bones stuck out,” Siddique said. “I told the family that if we were going to treat her burn, then they had to start feeding her better. Because she was a girl, they didn’t think it was worth it.”
Dr. Marie-Christine Gailloud-Matthieu, a Swiss plastic surgeon, carries an unconscious patient whom she performed surgery on, to the patient recovery room aboard the Emirates Friendship Hospital.
Hasina Begum misunderstood the doctors’ instructions to keep her arm elevated and instead tied it to the ceiling, inside the patient shelter.
Dr. Zhong comforts Mariam who is recovering from surgery inside the patient shelter, which is constructed of corrugated iron and bamboo poles. Mariam's pants caught fire while she was trying to warm her hands by a fire, causing severe burns to the backs of her legs.
Morsheda walks along the plank leading back to the patient recovery room from the floating hospital. The inside of her legs had been burned from groin to ankle after her sari caught fire two years ago while she was boiling water over a mud stove. Her husband used the incident as an excuse to divorce her, take custody of their child, and marry another woman.
Bengali women squat while cooking breakfast over open mud fires in a corner of the patient shelter. Women and young children often suffer from life altering burns as a result of these open fires.
A woman grins while recovering from her surgery in the patient recovery room. “We are all human and we share so much even if our worlds are completely different," says Dr. Toni Zhong. "We have brought these women hope. And when I go back, I will be a better doctor, a better mother and a better person.”
What Once Was
Jade Brooks is from Nova Scotia. She met her pimp at 15 when she was in foster care and he trafficked her through Toronto from age 17 to 19. She never pressed charges. During the school holidays, Brooks would sell herself for sex in a dimly lit massage parlour in North York. “I saw hundreds of clients and I was only a little girl.” She was doing this because sometimes he hit her and once “it hurt so bad it made me throw up.” He told her to get his name tattooed on her body “so everyone can know you’re mine.” She did. The tattoo is now covered by two flowers — but if you look close enough you can still see the outline of his name, branded on her body for life.
The owner of the Mississauga Gates Inn, who identified himself as Suni, said that young girls are trafficked out of high-end hotels and small motels, like his, every day. “We are kicking these people out like f--king crazy. We are battling the struggle every day,” Suni said.
Tattooed on to Phoenix's right shoulder is her pimp's street name. Some nights when she gets drunk, she tries to claw it off of her skin. "I gotta cover it up; I hate looking at it," she says, craning her neck to see the tattoo in the reflection of her bedroom mirror. When asked what she's going to cover it up with, she pauses and sits down on her unmade bed. "With a big black heart," she says. "That's what he gave me."
When Phoenix was trapped in The Game, she wasn’t allowed to sleep until she made $1,000 a day having sex. Sometimes there were up to eight clients a day — ranging from businessmen to labourers, accountants, teachers, doctors, lawyers and soldiers.
It begins with the boyfriend stage: romantic dates, the illusion of love and the promise of a future, complete with a house they would own together. Then it’s the grooming, the gifts and the hints about how much money she could make working in the sex trade. Finally it comes to the “sale,” where a pimp convinces a girl to prostitute herself and give him all her money.
Taylor grew up with her parents in Hamilton. She met her pimp at 19 and was trafficked across the GTA for four months. She was lured into the game by a bottom bitch (the slang term for a pimp’s top earner) — and told she would be burned alive if she tried to run.
A man enters a motel room at the Mississauga Gates Inn on Dundas Street, five minutes after another man exited the same room.
When Natalie was 23 years old, she was locked in a hotel room and forced to work as a sex slave day and night by her pimp in Calgary. She had to service the early morning businessmen at 7 a.m., and stay awake until the late-night-rush at 3 a.m.. When she was on her period, her trafficker inserted a sponge inside of her and told her to keep working. She made over $30,000 in one month and handed over every cent. "I felt like they had a hold of me from the inside – from my mind," the now 27-year-old said.
Some of the girls are beaten by pimps — whipped with coat hangers heated up on a stove, punched, choked, burnt and forced to sleep naked at the foot of the bed, like dogs.
Natalie was forced to have sex with up to 15 men a day. "I felt dirty. And gross. I felt like my skin was dirty. I had to scrub it all the time."
Matthew Deiaco faces human trafficking charges after allegedly recruiting a 27-year-old woman into the sex trade, forcing her to hand over her profits and assaulting her at gun point. According to police documents, the victim was forced to work as a prostitute in Toronto motels over five days in January and after she escaped he tracked her down and beat her, then held what appeared to be a gun against her head and allegedly threatened: "I'm going to shoot you. Did you think you could leave me?"