A man in Athens, Greece, has a chain wrapped around his wrists in this photo illustration. CNS photo/Alkis Konstantinidis, Reuters

Calgary schools step up human trafficking fight

By 
  • January 30, 2022

The Calgary Catholic School District is partnering with country music star Paul Brandt’s non-profit #NotInMyCity to raise awareness and inspire action to end sexual exploitation and trafficking.

The CCSD unveiled a learning partnership with #NotInMyCity, founded by Brandt and his wife Liz, on Jan. 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, joining the fight against one of the nation’s fastest-growing crimes and the world’s second most profitable illegal enterprise behind drug trafficking.

Worldwide, according to statistics from #NotInMyCity, 40 million people are entrapped in some form of slavery. Statistics Canada’s Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2019 report says Canadian police reported 511 human trafficking incidents, the highest total since data became available in 2009. In Canada, 21 per cent of victims are under the age of 18.

“Creating allyships with school boards is an important part of the work we do as an organization,” said Brandt. “By collaborating with the CCSD, we can help teachers and staff identify signs of trafficking and give them the tools to confidently address situations.”

#NotinMyCity is equipping educators with customized training to help them identify students who may be at enhanced risk of being trafficked. Ideally, teachers will recognize behavioural signs and attain know-how in assisting students.

This alliance is the product of several years of work from Leanne Timko, the CCSD’s director of learning services. Timko said it began “four or five years ago” when her school district bosses invited her to attend a meeting hosted by Brandt. Timko inquired during Brandt’s presentation about where education fits into the equation.

“The work continued (from that day), and I was able to be included in conversations about youth, which included so many different partners like Calgary Police Service, children’s services and other agencies working to support youth who are in a vulnerable position,” she said.

Timko and other CCSD team members collaborated with #NotinMyCity’s executive director of programs and services Bonnie Johnston and Alanna Deis, human resources and volunteer lead, at various junctures the past several years to formulate policies for schools to obstruct trafficking. Johnston devised strategies for other industries such as trucking, airports and transit. Deis then engaged in conversations with members of CCSD’s attendance, behavioural and counselling teams to flesh out what ultimately became the educational module launched this month.

Timko hopes these resources will have an impact.

“We are incredibly optimistic and proud about this educational course,” she said. “It’s a really tough topic. Not many people want to talk about 13-, 14-year-olds at potential risk of being trafficked who are going to school. But by raising the awareness of our educators, educational assistants, bus drivers, administrators and anyone who works with kids, they might witness something and then have a spark or a twinge to go get help for that kid.”

One of the “saddest” insights Timko has gleaned from her research is how trafficking stems from a need for connection.

“The victims are often searching for an attachment of some kind to fill a need,” she said. “Specifically, young people in need of that authentic, trusting relationship to be able to maneuver through dangerous waters. (I have) learned about attachments and why some students would be so susceptible to a trafficker who can manipulate and form that attachment before exploiting it.”

While the educational module is strictly a resource for CCSD employees, the district encourages Canadians to complete #NotInMyCity’s 30-minute interactive e-course to become knowledgeable about sexual exploitation and trafficking in Canada. 

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