Sunday, October 17, 2010

Honouring Heroes: What You Don't Know About Canada, and Human Trafficking

On Saturday night, an event hosted by MP Joy Smith on her work with the sex trade and human trafficking (read: slavery in Canada) shed light on these widely unreported and horrendous issues. Honouring Heroes also saw several people, whom I will write about shortly, receive awards for their exemplary work.

Please, please read about the individuals being honoured tonight. You can skip down if you wish to read about them.

To open eyes, attention was drawn in opening remarks to the 16 Hungarian construction workers freed from slavery in Hamilton just one week ago, and a man charged with running four brothels in Vancouver just days ago. The timing of these charges could not have been better to highlight the importance of Joy Smith's work.

Smith asked the crowd to keep in mind the many "unsung heroes" fighting underground, out of public attention and below media radar. She then spoke of her own background on how she got involved. Which I personally think is very important, as we often hear bits and pieces of how Smith is working on trafficking, but rarely about why she is so passionate about it. Smith, a mother of six, one of which is an RCMP officer who has suffered the effects of viewing child pornography and rape, combing archives of violent and unimaginable scenarios, fighting the good fight in attempt to identify criminals and rescue victims.

Shockingly to myself, Smith's bill C-268, when it was first introduced (mandatory sentence for human trafficking), did not receive a motion to proceed. She would have to wait to be re-elected to introduce the bill again.

Yes, slavery, and trafficking exists in Canada.
And quite freely, may I add, as few are aware that it exists, or the extent of the damage caused in these young women, and how widespread it is.

Brian McConaghy, former RCMP officer and founder of Ratanak Foundation, was the first anti-trafficking hero being honoured.

Brian went to Cambodia, but did not become involved until he saw the faces of extremely young victims of rape and trafficking he was trying to help. He quit full time from the Force to spend all of his time on Ratanak (named after a Cambodian child), because of "the privilege of seeing success."

Brian spoke of the need to be informed. Which was, to my delight, a common theme amongst the award recipients. Try as I might, I ultimately fail at trying to convince people (most importantly my friends) that just simply knowing, is important. To which the common response is, well what are you going to do about it, I have no time to read news. Would you rather not know about people living their lives, as a sex trade slave, right here in Canada? Would you rather not know about the gross inhumane treatment of minors and human rights violations, right here in Canada? Would you rather not be aware this is happening not only in your home country, but the city you live in and maybe even the neighbourhood you live in? Being ignorant about events in our own country, as a citizen of this country, is simply not acceptable.

Natasha Falle, escaped sex slavery ten years ago and founded

Natasha spoke briefly of life as a sex slave on the streets of Toronto. She is now a strong anti-trafficking advocate. What readers must realize about Natasha, as well as the next guest of honour, is that few former prostitutes involved in sex trades and trafficking come forward to speak. It takes incredible courage for these women who had been abused and raped repeatedly to be able to speak publicly, or, as Natasha does, advocates against trafficking and founded her own organization.

Timea Nagy was lured to Canada from Hungary under false pretenses. When she arrived in Canada and unable to speak English, her sponsor picked her up, drove her from the airport and directly to a strip club, where she was forced to work.

Timea survived after escaping and running away, while still unable to speak English. She is now able to speak English fairly well, and contributed to a book telling many of the untold stories from being forced into the sex trade. While in Winnipeg, she took a ride with Winnipeg Police and provided pointers to officers.

Between handing out awards, Joy Smith spoke about each person. Before introducing Ron Evans, she reiterated the importance of being informed. I hope I don't get this wrong, but I believe Smith quoted 18th century British Politician William Wilburforce;

"Once you've heard, you can never again say you don't know."

Just ten years ago, the knowledge of human trafficking and slavery existing in Canada was non existent. This is the power of just knowing. Without knowing the extent of human trafficking in Canada, remaining willfully ignorant, affects the way your opinions form, affects how you behave, and affects how you vote and who you vote for.

Ron Evans, the Manitoba Grand Chief also received an award. He has chosen to use his position to educate and better inform Aboriginals, especially on reserves, which is an obvious and problematic source of human trafficking in Manitoba. Not surprisingly, a majority of trafficking in Manitoba involves Aboriginal women and children.

Tamara Cherry of the Toronto Sun is the only journalist in Canada doing continuous and investigative journalism on this issue. Tamara is only a couple of years older than myself, and just three years ago she was not aware trafficking existed in Canada. Like most of us, the reaction to discovering the existence of slavery and trafficking in Canada is denial or outright disbelief.

Tamara spoke freely, openly, and graphically of various women in the Toronto area and their stories. She drew attention that this does not just happen to foreign women or Aboriginals, it can happen to any young girl or teenager, as the predators prey on their vulnerability. The predators as Tamara explained, have "vulnerability radar," which she has also developed working so extensively on (un)covering this, which they use to put the charms on and lure them away from any security they may have had. Girls are promised jobs or opportunities, or lured into relationships where their "boyfriend" will tell them that they are loved.

Unfortunately she was not spending any time in Winnipeg and was on a plane back to the Big Smoke this morning. But speaking to her afterwards, she told me 90% of women working in strip clubs are being trafficked.

Don't go to strip clubs?

Please visit the links I have provided, especially for Ratanak, which was the charity of choice for last night's event. If you would like to donate some cash, Ratanak is where to go. I will also be adding a spot on my sidebar for their organization.

The Winnipeg Free Press wrote a "story" about it here, focusing more on Craigslist, which was but a minor part of last night. In my opinion, the personal stories of these "unsung heroes" has far more weight, importance, and impact on forcing change.

Thank you to Brian, Natasha, Timea, and Tamara for coming to Winnipeg for this event, and thank you to Joy Smith for her efforts in Ottawa.

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