The fight against human trafficking has been a worldwide movement. Above, activists in Berlin take part in a “Walk for Freedom” to protest human trafficking in 2018. A new initiative in Canada has been launched called the National Human Trafficking Education Centre. CNS photo/Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

Human trafficking education centre launched

  • October 30, 2021

The Joy Smith Foundation’s new National Human Trafficking Education Centre (NHTEC) is aiming to increase awareness of the scourge while providing greater support for survivors and their families.

This new initiative was to be officially launched Oct. 28 with a one-hour online event. Winnipeg radio host Geoff Currier was to emcee the ceremony featuring dignitaries such as country music artist Paul Brandt, former NHL player and Respect Group Inc. founder Sheldon Kennedy and Christian performer Steve Bell among others.

Survivors and people on the frontlines of the anti-trafficking fight were also part of the proceedings.

There are two core aims for the NHTEC. The first is arming Canadian citizens with the knowledge and resources so they can play a role in preventing and intervening in human trafficking. The second is providing support so survivors and their families can heal.

Joy Smith, the former Manitoba Conservative MP (2004-15) who started the foundation after leaving politics, told The Catholic Register that it seems like her Winnipeg-based foundation is lately receiving “five times as many cases compared to previous years.” She attributes this to online ploys used by traffickers that are increasingly elaborate.

“There is software where you can change the face and change the voice. A 16-year-old girl thinking she is speaking with a 16-year-old boy finds out later she is talking to a 40-something-year-old man. There has been a variety of cases and it has just been nonstop,” said Smith.

Smith also believes the pandemic has played a role in the increase in human trafficking. Social isolation instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic could be one of the root causes of this significant uptick in case volume, she said.

“They get on the Internet during their isolation because that was their way of reaching out to try and get communication.”

NHTEC resources, which will become available after the launch, will include a host of free and for-fee courses, some of which will be led by professional instructors. The website will continually be populated over time, but visitors checking it out immediately can learn about warning signs, how the traffickers operate and protocols on how to keep their loved ones safe. They will also dispel some of the myths surrounding human trafficking, including sharing the fact that 93 per cent of Canada’s sex-trafficking victims are Canadian born.

Smith, an educator for nearly a quarter century before making the jump to politics, achieved several key legislative victories to combat human trafficking while she was a member of the House of Commons. In 2007, her motion C-153 for a four-year national action plan to combat trafficking was passed unanimously. That same year her Clean Internet Act (Bill C-427) — again passed with no dissenting votes — strengthened efforts in fighting online trafficking and child pornography. Five years later her Bill C-310 amended the Criminal Code of Canada to include trafficking in persons. 

Smith says one person making the decision to become knowledgeable about human trafficking can be impactful.

“One person, one step at a time, can make a difference by educating themselves and then — No. 1 — keeping their own family safe,” said Smith. “And then after that they can take the information to their church, their school, sports centres — prevention is a lot better than having to go through the rehabilitation process. They don’t go through the post-traumatic stress disorder or behaviour traumas that occur after someone has been trafficked.”

A core way the NHTEC and the Joy Smith Foundation at large hopes to keep helping victims is imploring them not to be ruled by “deep guilt or shame.”

“The blame and shame is on the traffickers alone,” said Smith. “The survivors and their loved ones first need to have the guilt taken away from them and to understand they are valuable people. The traffickers are so skilled and schooled at what they do. You don’t want families and young people who experienced this situation to feel shame or blame.”

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