Activists in Berlin take part in a “Walk for Freedom” to protest human trafficking in 2018. CNS photo/Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

Sister has waged two-decade battle against human trafficking

  • March 17, 2022

It has been nearly a decade since Sr. Nancy Brown was named a 2012 Order of British Columbia recipient in recognition of her dogged advocacy on behalf of youth and young people at risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

It’s a mission that has not slowed down and continues to take up much of the Sister of Charity’s time with the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Anti-Human Trafficking(AHT) Committee.

Her conviction to raise awareness about these societal scourges stems from her two decades of work as the pastoral counsellor and ombudsperson at Covenant House Vancouver, which deals with youth on the streets.

“It was during that time that I personally experienced young people who were lured into prostitution and human trafficking,” said Brown. “Seeing their vulnerability — it did something to me. It was those experiences that caused me to hound the archdiocese to, from a Christian point of view, do something.”

Evelyn Vollet, the archdiocese’s Office of Service and Justice director from 2010 to 2016, heeded Brown’s call and met with her in 2013. Vollet said the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to overturn the country’s prostitution laws in 2013 made it clear that she needed to learn more about sexual exploitation and trafficking in Canada.

“We struck a relationship, and almost immediately went through a very robust process to form a committee with the commission of his grace Archbishop Michael Miller,” said Vollet.

The same year the committee was established, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) became Canadian law. The committee considers PCEPA a good law and works to safeguard it and advocates for its full enforcement. That law reflects the so-called “Nordic model,” which treats prostitutes themselves as victims needing assistance to exit the profession while criminalizing other aspects of prostitution.

In the initial years of the committee, Brown said she and Vollet presented “seemingly every second night” to parishes, pastoral groups and other committees about trafficking and sexual exploitation in Canada.

“Most of the groupings we spoke to were Catholic,” said Brown. “We wanted to bring forth the Catholic social teachings and also the Gospel, and our Christian calling to respect the dignity of the human person, to respect and outreach to the poor, and when you look at prostitution and human trafficking, you see the injustice done to the human person.”

Brown, Vollet and committee members believe continued educational and awareness campaigns in the public will help protect prostitution laws such as PCEPA from continued legal challenges, including from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.

The committee is collaborating with several other dioceses to construct a study guide so parishes across Canada can learn and discuss the Canadian bishops 2021 Pastoral Letter on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Canada.

“It is in progress right now,” said Vollet. “Our hope is that this resource will get the information in the letter out wider into dioceses looking to create this (anti-trafficking) ministry as well.”

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