Being a real life hero is what every police investigator dreams about when joining the force. When dreams become reality, however, challenges, cases, and sleepless nights come along. Lieutenant Detective Dominic Monchamp, originally from Quebec, Canada, has been a Montreal police officer for 25 years, 20 of which were dedicated to human trafficking cases. Detective Monchamp is the real life Canadian hero who is fighting human trafficking alongside more than 30 police investigators in Montreal.
Could you please introduce yourself and your work background? How did you decide to visit Lithuania?
In the beginning of my career, I was a young investigator and eventually I was in charge of two investigators fighting human trafficking. Over the years we discovered that there was a pretty big problem in Montreal, Canada. Eventually I had 8 investigators and we managed to demonstrate to the government and to other law enforcement agencies that we should all work together and consolidate resources to fight human trafficking. In order to make a compelling case that there is the suspicion of human trafficking in a given situation is well-founded, you need to be a multidisciplinary task force because you’re dealing with broken people. And in order to help them, and to be able to go through the investigation process and court process, you need all those partners as well as prosecutors and the highly competent judges. I understood last year that Lithuania was looking for an expert who could share best practice on human trafficking cases. What brings me to Lithuania is not only my work in police, but also involvement with NGOs, social workers, doctors, psychologists, school boards and other organizations. So, several people from Lithuania and Canada who are involved with NGO talked with each other and decided to invite me here through the embassy. That is why I am here for the seminar and various presentations.
Why did you choose human trafficking as your main focus?
I don’t think I chose human trafficking, I think human trafficking chose me. When I entered the force as a young investigator I wanted to be a hero, wanted to catch bad guys and I was planning to join the SWAT team, which didn’t happen. I had only been in the force for five years when I started to work on prostitution. We were mainly targeting prostitutes and arresting them. There was no one else to punish for prostitution other than the prostitute, and I felt that I was not really catching the real criminals out there. Instead, I was catching vulnerable people, the weakest people possible who are in need. And I was actually harming them. As a young investigator, I proposed some projects that were targeting organizations such as escort agencies and others that were responsible. I was trying to switch the focus on the market and it worked. Gradually I began to do those investigations and by interviewing hundreds and hundreds of victims and sharing their stories I felt that I had some kind of mission in that field because there was so much to do and there was something wrong with the way it was done previously. Eventually I got drawn into it. I became the boss, I became responsible for an entire unit. It is hard work. I’ve been doing it for so many years that I have to say that I’m getting tired of it. But it is extremely rewarding to work with those victims because after they get out they call us. And since I’ve been doing this for so long they call me back and they say: “Thank you for getting my life back. Here is a picture of my baby. I have a new life.” I’ve accumulated a pretty big photo album with many photos of babies. That is my biggest reward and I guess this is why I’ve been doing this for so long.
How would you describe the process of working on a case, not necessarily methodologically, but in terms of the emotional component that is involved in helping victims?
There are various ways to go through a file so it’s very hard to explain. But if I could summarize it, I would say that you need to listen, to be patient, to associate and partner with many people. You need to respect everybody, respect the victim. Respect the fact that she is probably going to change her mind because she might be extremely scared. Be very and very humble and patient; but the toughest part is to always put yourself aside, to put your emotions aside, and place the victim’s experience and well-being at the center of any decision and any action that will be taken.
Do you ever feel like you lose faith in humanity having worked on such a large number of emotionally taxing cases?
Yes, it’s pretty common for a police officer to have that reaction. You become wary. You stop trusting people. What restores my faith in humanity, as I’ve already mentioned, are the victims who get back to you and, in a way, confirm that you are doing the right thing, which is not usually the case in police work. Usually you get an emergency, you help people, but you don’t get to know what happens after. But because our cases take a long time, there’s a much deeper involvement. By doing what I’m doing today I have the chance to get in touch with very positive people who want to do good things and change the world. And meeting those kinds of people, in a way, reminds me what most humans are actually like. Most people want the best for everybody.
How many cases have your team successfully solved?
I’ve not been directly involved in a case for a long time now. I’m in charge of a team of dedicated, passionate police investigators who do field work. It is thanks to them that cases are successful because they put themselves aside. They are the ones who put their family aside and sacrifice a lot in order to help their partners and save the victims. Last year we managed to arrest 100 traffickers. We have a conviction rate of between 70-80%. The statistics have been relatively consistent over the last few years, so it is a lot of cases.
What are some of the dangers of working on human trafficking cases?
The main danger is to get discouraged. It is challenging to stay motivated because victims are fragile, they need a lot of help but often get scared and want to stop everything. Another issue is that you need to fight in order to justify this kind of work. In the past few years we had to fight to have resources allocated to this kind of work. The other thing that is pretty dangerous for our investigators is to get tired, to get too emotionally involved. They will get touched by so many horrible stories that they will lose faith in humanity. And they will think that their work is not worth it because we cannot save everyone, we can only save a few of them.
What do you do to leave your work at work when you get home?
It’s very hard, we’re on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and our phones are always with us. I used to say that the only time that I was not at work was when I was on vacation because it was the only time that I managed to forget about my phone. I do a lot of sports, focus on spending time with my family. I always say that my family is saving me from my job because I need to take care of them. If I’m at work too much or I don’t take care of my family, I’m going to lose my family, so they keep me balanced. Sometimes my wife will tell me: “That’s enough now. You need to go home”. I also love the sea, so I go back to the sea as often as I can and it calms me down. These are some of the ways to forget about work. But it’s always in the back of my mind.
What is your opinion on the current situation with human trafficking and the awareness of it in Canada?
In Canada people are definitely more aware of the situation. We also work with media and we do a lot of interviews. One time we had researchers from a university who interviewed us and wrote about our cases. There are many things that have been done to raise awareness about human trafficking and I think in general people are more concerned and want the situation changed. But it took the involvement of everybody to make that change. Nevertheless the level of awareness differs across Canada. And I would say that worldwide there is still work to do.
Do you receive calls from people who claim they might know of a possible human trafficking case?
It happens a lot. In the beginning of our work, there were very few of us working on human trafficking cases, so people knew us. We would receive calls from school boards, teachers, parents, school friends, saying: “I’m worried about my sister or my friend or this student”. Last year in my province they even made a TV show called Runaway. It was a weekly TV show that had a huge impact on public awareness. Two of our police officers and a consultant were working closely with the TV crew in order to portray the reality of someone who ran away from a regular family and became a victim of human trafficking. It showed that anybody could be a human trafficking victim, any regular family could be touched by that tragedy. It also showed the impact of human trafficking not only on the victim, but also on the family. After that TV show we had a huge amount of calls from everywhere.
Is your team working on any cases right now while you are here in Lithuania for all the seminars and presentations?
Yes, our team is currently working on various cases. When I get back to my hotel I will look through the emails regarding various cases, and I already have one request from Toronto that I need to look into. These requests are common since we work non stop on those cases. Last year we went through more than 300 cases. So, it’s about one case per day. Every case takes at least a month to work on. We have our investigators spend about 200 days in court, so if you do the math it doesn’t leave a lot of days or hours to spend back home. Everyone keeps working hard trying to fight for the victims and to help them.