by Sharyn Hall
Many people believe that slavery ended in the distant past, but the opposite reality is true. Over 35 million people in our world today are slaves. They have no passport, no protection by any country and no money to escape. They are shamed and humiliated into submission.
Men, women and children are trafficked into slave labour in factories, farms and the sex industry. Human trafficking is a prevalent practice globally, with instances of exploitation and human rights violations being reported in the majority of nations each year.
The profits are enormous. Forced labour generates $150 billion dollars per year in illegal profits! Two thirds of those profits are generated by commercial sexual exploitation. Men, women and children are victims of this crime, but women and girls represent the majority of victims in Canada.
We may believe that the exploitation of young girls only happens in faraway countries, but it is happening in our country, our province and our neighbourhoods.
Canada is a source country, a transit country and a destination country for human trafficking. The extent of human trafficking in Canada is difficult to assess due to the hidden nature of the crime and the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward to law enforcement. Human trafficking is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
According to national statistics, almost half the victims of trafficking are between the ages of 18 and 24, and 25% of trafficked victims in Canada are under the age of 18. The common age of females forced into the sex trade is 12 or 13 years old. We may believe that the exploitation of young girls only happens in faraway countries, but it is happening in our country, our province and our neighbourhoods.
Trafficked persons in Canada come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some populations are particularly vulnerable, such as women and children in poverty, homeless youth and Indigenous women and girls. However, traffickers also cruise high-density areas, such as malls and sporting events for victims. In recent years, police have discovered victims trapped in hotels and motels along Hwy 401 from Windsor to Quebec.
Media stories have given the wider public only glimpses of the extent of the global problem. Canadians are becoming aware that human trafficking and slavery touch our daily lives: in merchandise we purchase, in our economies and in the sex trade. Canadians in faith communities have the potential to make a difference through education and local organizations.
The Anglican Church of Canada is working with various partners to combat human trafficking. These organizations are faith-based groups or government-sponsored initiatives, both within Canada and with international bodies, such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Check the website of our national church (www.anglican.ca/issues/human-trafficking) for information and to watch a short video.
Dr. Ryan Weston is building a network of people and parishes engaged with issues related to human trafficking.
Become informed about this reality. If a person comes to your church door with a story of being trafficked into forced labour or the sex trade, listen.
Learn who to contact for help in your area. Your local police may have a unit working on trafficking and know of an organization in your area helping victims.
The great English anti-slavery campaigner of the late 18th century, William Wilberforce, stated, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know.” His words ring true over 200 years later.
No human being should be bought or sold. That is a human right we all should protect!
The Reverend Canon Sharyn Hall is an Associate Priest at Christ’s Church Cathedral Hamilton and a member of Synod Council for social justice issues.