The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights launched a national consultation on human trafficking in February. This all-party committee visited Edmonton on March 22 as part of a cross-country, five city tour. They met at the Commonwealth Stadium with EPS, RCMP, and many community organizations working to support victims of human trafficking, whether through labour exploitation or sexual exploitation. Committee members met with survivors of sex trafficking who gathered at the CEASE office. Later they visited A Safe Place, which has a designated space for women who are trafficked.
Randy Boissonnault, MP for Edmonton Centre, is a member of the Justice Committee. When asked to share his thoughts on what he learned, he replied: “One of the things that shocked me was the degree to which family trafficking is taking place. That family members would take advantage like that is a very disheartening reminder of the cruelty of some people toward their own children.
We also heard that the issue of human trafficking is complex. We must have a better understanding of what it is and that it doesn’t always involve kidnapping and gangs. It can be your server at a restaurant who was trafficked for the purposes of labour exploitation.”
Those who spoke stressed that poverty is one key driver for human trafficking, creating vulnerabilities that traffickers prey upon. Another harsh reality is that neither law enforcement nor community organizations have sufficient funding to work on comprehensive strategies and provide resources to those who are exploited. A second driver is the demand for cheap labour and exploitative sex. It is simple but true – without consumer demand, traffickers wouldn’t have a profit motive to exploit human beings.
As an Edmontonian, Randy was impressed. “There are many talented organizations in our city that are working so hard to end human trafficking, and to support those who have survived trafficking. It is heartening to know we have a community that cares so much. Additionally, we are setting an example for collecting data (through ACT Alberta) which is helpful from a policy perspective. The work that organizations like YESS and iHuman are doing for homeless and at risk youth makes me proud.”
He concluded, “I am proud that our government is looking into this issue. We’ll be working hard with stakeholders to have a report that can make a difference in people’s lives.“
Kate is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).