By Jim West
First Nations girls as young as ten years old have been targeted by sex trade recruiters at a Vancouver elementary school says Caroline Krause, principal of the Grandview Elementary School.
“Every spring, active recruitment of our Grade Six and Seven First Nations girl students takes place,” said Krause to the Vancouver city council’s planning and environment committee recently. “We find that groups of traffickers and recruiters try to come onto the school grounds. Sometimes they come into the school trying to lure away our girls.”
In her presentation to the committee, Krause held up a copy of that day’s Vancouver Sun, which displayed photos of the 12 additional women that Robert Pickton is charged with murdering and said, “When young girls are recruited into the sex trade at 10, 11 and 12 (years old), this is very well where they will end up.”
Krause urged the committee not to close the Grandview Highway North between Clark and Commercial Drive as part of a new Millennium Peace Park beside the school because the school would not be able to police it.
“Over the past five years, we have been successful in keeping hundreds of students off the streets and in a safe and caring environment for three hours every day after school. Our concern is if there is a park created by our school with no recreational facilities, just a park, this can undermine everything we have accomplished in the area of prevention.”
In a May 7 letter to the committee, Krause said the school, at Grandview and Woodland, has serious problems with drug users on the school grounds, with people regularly using the school’s First Nations longhouse as a crack house.
“Every morning members of our school staff have to sweep up broken glass, needles, drug paraphernalia, condoms, etc. as a result of evening activities,” she wrote.
If the city created a park beside the school, says Krause, she is worried teachers would not be able to protect students after school despite years of vigilance and the creation of successful prevention programs for at-risk students.
While teachers have been able to deal with recruiters by issuing “no trespassing” orders when recruiters enter the school grounds, Krause said teachers would not have the same authority in a public park.
“We’re worried that our girls will be lured over to the park,” said Krause.
Council members agreed to keep the street open and expressed concern over the hazard faced by the school’s First Nations girl students.
Councillor Ellen Woodsworth said it was “tragic” that the city has to choose between the safety of school children and the creation of a public park.
Mayor Larry Campbell said it makes his blood boil to hear about the solicitation of young girls into the sex trade and said he would take up the matter with the city’s police board.
Almost half of the 190 students at the school are First Nations enrolled in aboriginal programs, according to a Ministry of Education report. The Ministry of Children and Family Development has identified Grandview Elementary students as some of the most vulnerable in the province.