Suyeon Hsu, left, along with the rest of the design team unwrap the Gift Box. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Gift Box will unwrap horrors of trafficking for Pan Ams' visitors

  • July 7, 2015

TORONTO - With thousands expected in Toronto for the Pan Am Games this summer, Faith Alliance To End Human Trafficking's Gift Box project seeks to share with the city and its guests the horrors of selling souls.

Designed to resemble an open gift box, those who come upon it during the July 10-26 Pan Am Games and the Aug. 7-15 Parapan Am Games are able to step inside the structure's 15-square-metre footprint where they will be exposed to the plight of human trafficking, the hardships associated with the crime as well as information regarding who to contact if you suspect human trafficking is occurring.  

“Gift Box is an experience that will change your life by unwrapping the truth about human trafficking,” said Kelly Colwell, the project's co-ordinator. “Gift Box will educate people about the very real, local face of human trafficking and empower them to take action to end it.”

The project's July 7 launch drew more than 50 people to the lawn outside of St. James Anglican Cathedral in downtown Toronto, where it will remain for the games' duration and beyond, until the UN World Day Against Trafficking in Persons Aug. 30.

Those who visit the display between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. will be welcomed by volunteers like Kathy Tanel, armed with information and ambition to spread awareness.

“It is an incredible visual that people will stop and look at and then we will have an opportunity to have a discussion,” she said. “I hope that it is going to serve the purpose that we want it to.”

That purpose is driving home the reality that human trafficking happens right here in the city, the province and across the country. According to the federal government's 2012 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, about 90 per cent of human trafficking within Canada involves domestic victims. That's a reality, Colwell said, of which few Canadians are aware.

“Many people are not aware that human trafficking is a problem here in Canada,” she said, explaining why Faith Alliance embarked upon the Gift Box project.

Gift Box first appeared during the London Olympics in 2012 when four different versions of the box appeared in England during the summer games. Launched by Stop the Traffik and UN.GIFT (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking), the Gift Box project has since appeared in about 100 locations across four countries.

Toronto's Pan Am version, which Colwell said contains only “tailored information about trafficking in Canada specific to Ontario,” will be Canada's first.

Sr. Thérèse Meunier called the Gift Box project a step towards change.

“Each of us has the power to drive change,” said the congregational leader of the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto who is also on the executive of Faith Alliance. “Our desire to raise awareness and to connect people with resources is a step in that direction.”

Students from OCAD University designed the box, which stands almost four metres tall.

Suyeon Hsu, the lead student designer who comes from a Catholic family, said the box's ribbon serves as a powerful metaphor.  

“A ribbon was selected by consensus because its form is simple and common and yet it can convey a powerful message,” she said. “Ribbons are great objects to symbolize the weak, the poor, the victims and the people with no powers. We wanted to convey the message that the human trafficking issue is lurking around us and it will entrap us like a tangled ribbon.”

The Gift Box will be stored at Clifford Masonry, the company that built the box, afterwards and will be available for future events. Hsu said already a group from Oakville, Ont., has expressed interest in hosting the box during an event in September.

But before that Hsu said she hopes the Gift Box will raise awareness among games' visitors.

“We hope it will convey our message,” she said. “We are hoping that ... people will understand what we want to deliver from it. Human trafficking is a serious issue in our society.”

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