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Human Trafficking Awareness Day - February 22, 2019

February 22 was Ontario‚Äôs Human Trafficking Awareness Day. As such, Toronto Counter-Human Trafficking Network (TCHTN) hosted An Open Conversation on Human Trafficking Through an Anti-Oppressive Lens.
 
This interactive panel discussion took place at the Mary Ward Centre and was moderated by the Ministry for Social Justice, Peace, and Care of Earth. The panelists, all experts in their areas, addressed various aspects of this complex phenomenon. 
 
Some of them include:
  • Implementation of human trafficking education and awareness to dispel common misconceptions and change attitudes. This point was brought by Rhonelle Bruder, a survivor, advocate and founder of RISE Initiative. She deconstructed some of the misconceptions about human trafficking, including the understanding that the control exercised over trafficked persons is mainly physical.  
  • Anti-oppression and gender equality as a framework to successfully address human trafficking. Youth peer workers from Aura Freedom International shared their experience raising awareness in schools across the GTA. Talking about toxic masculinity and its harmful effects on boys and men, the youth workers also addressed the role of men in challenging stereotypes and addressing exploitation.
  • The 211/Find Help line is the current operator of the Ontario Human Trafficking Helpline (1-833-999-9211). The speaker highlighted their accomplishments and lessons learned since the line became operational in 2017. They have received close to 200 calls from survivors, service providers and community members asking for referrals and information.
  • The labour trafficking perspective was discussed by FCJ Refugee Centre whose main work revolves around working with exploited migrant workers. They highlighted the recent case of 48 Mexican workers in the Barrie area brought to Canada with promises for work and permanent residency only to find themselves in severely exploitive living and working conditions. The safe removal operation and relocation of workers was successful because of the cooperation and well-coordinated efforts of law enforcement, service agencies, immigration authorities and community.    
  • Lastly, a Bekaadendang Worker (Sex Trafficking Navigator) from Native Child and Family Services detailed two hundred years of past and ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada and its impact on Indigenous women. The sex trafficking of Indigenous women is a direct effect of this ongoing structural dismantling of Indigenous communities, including their traditions and way of life. 
The participants and panelists had an opportunity to engage in further discussion which followed after the panel. 
 
Some overall highlights:
  • The possibility of human trafficking being included in the official Ontario high school curriculum. Some promising work in the York Region School Board was highlighted. However, every teacher, student or community member can approach their local school to discuss human trafficking as part of their activities. Organizations from the TCHTN can be approached to share materials. 
  • While exploitation of migrant workers is systemic, it is our individual responsibility to buy ethical food and goods free of exploitation. People should ask questions how their food was produced and where it is coming from. More dinner table conversations are needed to inform Canadians about the exploitive working and living conditions of thousands of migrant workers employed in restaurants, hotels, farms among other occupations. 
  • The importance of making the distinction between sex work and sex trafficking, including lack of consent and exploitation which are part of the latter. The service provider role in this aspect is to work with every individual respecting their current social and economic situation.

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