New NGO takes on slavery through education

By 
  • February 3, 2011
Karlee SapoznikTORONTO - Modern-day slavery is the most under-publicized human rights crisis of our time, said Karlee Sapoznik, a PhD student in history at York University. So Sapoznik, along with three others with ties to York, decided to take action.

They created the non-governmental organization Alliance Against Modern Slavery which launched with a fundraising concert and anti-slavery art auction on Jan. 28 followed by an inaugural conference on Jan. 29 at Toronto’s York University.

“Our vision is to combat modern slavery by collecting resources, building programs and creating alliances among a network of local and global partners so that every person has the opportunity for sustainable freedom,” said Sapoznik.

“Although we come to the issue of contemporary slavery from a variety of backgrounds, many of us are educators seeking to raise awareness among all levels of society about modern slavery.”

Along with Sapoznik, the co-founders include Jeffrey Gunn, a PhD student in history at York and elementary school teacher, Mekhala Gunaratne, a bachelor of science student at the University of Toronto, and Valerie Hebert, a history professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Sapoznik said there are 27 million slaves in the world today. In Canada, the main forms of slavery are human trafficking for forced prostitution and forced labour, but there are also cases of trafficking for forced marriage, she said.

One of the biggest roadblocks in combatting modern slavery is the lack of public awareness, she said.

The inaugural conference of about 250 people brought together survivors of modern slavery, law enforcement officials, activists, academics and politicians, such as Conservative MP Joy Smith.

Smith, who has been an anti-human trafficking proponent for years, said education is the greatest weapon we have in fighting injustice.

“There is slavery in the 21st century in Canada,” said Smith. “And we thought slavery was abolished in the 1800s.

“The more organizations that really have a heart for this and believe our mission in life is to be our brother’s keeper and take care of each other, the better off we’ll be,” she said.

“The more that we do this and make this education alive and present in Canada, the safer our people are going to be and it spills over into other countries as well.”

What makes the NGO unique, said Smith, is that it is a diverse, multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual organization. The co-founders and executive speak 14 languages and have spent time on all seven continents.

“A lot of us have studied the slave trade or the Holocaust and genocide and it just isn’t enough for us to say ‘never again,’ ” said Sapoznik.

“If people really want to substantiate that or they want to live that then we need to question: if the products we buy, the food that we eat, the T-shirts that we wear, if they’re produced by slavery, are we truly free?”

For more information on the Alliance Against Modern Slavery, see www.allianceagainstmodernslavery.org.

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