January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States. In a U.S. presidential proclamation, President Barack Obama called for businesses, national and community organizations, families and all Americans “to recognize the vital role we can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”
Canada has no such observance in our calendar.
Human trafficking, the exploitation of human labour of all kinds by deception or coercion, is a significant problem in Ontario. A recent report found 511 cases of people being trafficked in Ontario between 2011 and 2013, a number which the report calls “the tip of the iceberg” as the majority of these crimes are not reported.
This research from the Alliance Against Modern Slavery reports that Toronto is the most common destination for trafficked persons in Canada and a hub for different trafficking routes. Despite this, Ontario has no coordinated plan to tackle the problem.
A provincial action plan could help create better supports so that people being trafficked in Ontario for forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced street crime or some other purpose could more easily report their circumstances and get out of exploitative situations.
Without such a plan the province has little hope of reducing or eliminating the problem and thousands of people will continue to be exploited. One such person is Aditya, a woman from South Eastern Asia who leapt at the opportunity to come to Canada and earn money to support her family at home, especially her sick mother.
After paying $5,000 to a recruiter, Aditya arrived in Canada with a visitor’s visa valid for only 6 months. She was forced to work as a domestic servant and cleaner for her employer’s business, working seven days a week for over 12 hours a day without pay or days off. She was constantly criticized and threatened with deportation.
Aditya didn’t know anyone else besides her employer and didn’t speak English. After a few years, she managed to call police and asked for help. The police helped her get support and a work permit.
A Provincial Action Plan
During the 2015 Pan and Parapan Am Games, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto coordinated an effort by Faith Alliance to End Human Trafficking to educate the public and raise awareness about human trafficking through GIFT Box, a walk-in piece of public art in the shape of a giant gift box that unwrapped the truth about human trafficking in our province and country.
The GIFT Box concept was first introduced at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as a collaborative effort of the UN Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and STOP THE TRAFFIK and has introduced over 50,000 people in approximately 100 locations across 5 countries to the issue of human trafficking and inspired them to take further action.
Toronto Takes Part
This initiative was the first to appear in Canada and its content was specifically designed for a Canadian audience with stories and statistics of human trafficking in this country. Student designers developed the graphic content of the box, a construction company built and delivered the box, volunteers staffed the box during its open hours, and a moving company disassembled and stored it.
Over 1,200 people from over 50 countries entered the GIFT Box on the front lawn of St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto. Thousands more stopped to speak with our volunteers and sign our petition to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne calling for the creation of a provincial action plan to tackle human trafficking.
The material is heart-wrenching, and we should all do everything we can to conquer human trafficking. – GIFT Box visitor
Volunteers reported having hundreds of rich conversations with tourists and locals about human trafficking. Most visitors were amazed to learn that human trafficking is broader than sexual exploitation and is taking place right now, here in Canada. All went home with a new awareness of human trafficking and information on how to spot and report it.
This month, representatives from Faith Alliance are presenting over 4,000 petition cards to Premier Wynne’s office demanding that the province take action to stop and prevent this terrible crime.
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