It’s hard to think of a public figure in Canada who works as consistently or with as much determination as MP Joy Smith does to address the reality of of human trafficking. Over the last few years our paths have crossed and I’ve had the privilege to see her apply her passion and expertise as she articulates to average Canadians and people in positions of power how very real trafficking is and that there’s something to do about it.
It’s been a year since the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was launched across Canada, and so I wanted to catch up with Mrs. Smith to ask her a few questions about how she first became involved in the fight to end modern day slavery, and how, as a nation, Canada is doing to combat it.
The following interview took place via email.
Andrew Kooman: You are known in Canada for your work to address human trafficking, specifically through Bills C-310 and C-268. What compelled you, originally, to take up this cause and to put the issue on the national agenda?
Joy Smith: My greatest inspiration has been my son Edward Riglin. Currently, Edward is an RCMP corporal. However about 10 years ago, Edward was part of a special police unit in Manitoba known as the ICE unit that was put together to combat the online exploitation of children. As a Manitoba MLA, I worked to obtain funding for this unit. When my young son’s hair turned grey within two years of being a part of the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit (ICE), I began to realize the gravity and the strain these officers faced on a daily basis and the reality of child trafficking in Canada. That is when I, myself, became personally involved.
AK: How widespread is trafficking in Canada and who is particularly at risk of being trafficked?
JS: Here in Canada, we are beginning to awake to the realities of this horrific crime. From young girls taken from the streets of Montreal and sold abroad, to foreign workers coerced to work on Prairie farms, to the vulnerable children seduced on our First Nation reserves, it is a crime that reaches all elements of our society.
The 2008 Strategic Intelligence Brief by the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, Organized Crime and Domestic Trafficking in Persons in Canada, found that number of organized crime syndicates and family based networks recruit middle-class girls between the ages 12-25 and traffick them inter and intra-provincially. These girls are controlled through direct (rape, assaults) and indirect (threatening family members) forms of coercion. Young girls off of reserves are also at great risk of being trafficked.
AK: A year ago you were in Vancouver to help launch the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Why is this plan significant and how successfully is it being implemented in Canada?
JS: I was delighted to be part of the launch of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. It was an initiative that I had been advocating for many years.
Canada has made significant progress in the implementation of the Action Plan, including the development of tools to support the identification of populations and places most at risk, the creation of targeted education and awareness initiatives and efforts to improve services for victims of human trafficking.
One of the most significant parts of the Action Plan is that it focuses on a comprehensive list of Action Items, each of which have measurable targets. I would invite everyone to read the Action Plan to see what Canada is doing to fight modern day slavery.
AK: What resources and information do you consult to ensure your understanding of the nature of trafficking in Canada is current?
JS: Great question. I read articles and research daily on human trafficking. I also regularly consult with experts including NGOs, law enforcement, and most importantly, survivors. Being aware of the complex nature of human trafficking is critical to developing meaningful policies.
AK: How well equipped is law enforcement in Canada to investigate and prosecute the crime of trafficking and how well resourced are the agencies that help victims?
JS: Law enforcement has come a long ways since the introduction of human trafficking offences in 2005. Today the RCMP hold in-depth training for law enforcement across the country. There are also a number of Canadian anti-trafficking NGOs and survivors who are taking the time to teach law enforcement what to look for. It’s encouraging to see the change in awareness and this is reflected in the increase of arrests we have witnessed in the past two years.
Part of the federal Action Plan includes funding for victim organizations. However many of the organizations still struggle to provide basic care for victims of human trafficking. I would like to see an considerable increase in support from the federal and provincial governments for these organizations.
AK: Who are the individuals, historical or living, that inspire you and that serve as helpful examples in your work to address the issue of human trafficking?
JS: William Wilberforce is certainly a historical figure who is a significant inspiration to me. As a British MP, he spent his life campaigning against the Atlantic Slave trade.
Today, I am inspired by people who have similarly given their lives to aid the vulnerable. People like Rosi Orozco in Mexico, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca in the United States, and Brian McConaghy and Jamie McIntosh.
I am especially inspired by survivors who display considerable resilience and hope.
AK: In the short term, what do you think are the most important actions that Canadians need to take in order to help put a stop to trafficking within our borders?
JS: Education. Education. Education. It is truly our greatest weapon. William Wilberforce said to Parliamentarians in the 1800’s “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.” This is especially true today. We need to educate everyone we know about modern day slavery. This is why I send out free human trafficking resource kits. Anyone is welcome to contact my office and request one by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
AK: In the long view, are you optimistic that trafficking can be eradicated from Canada and beyond our borders?
JS: Yes. If we are determined as a nation we can. It will take every single Canadian to stand against slavery.
AK: Last year you also launched the Joy Smith Foundation. What are your hopes for the foundation?
JS: I hope to see the Foundation raise awareness across the nation about human trafficking. I also hope that the Foundation develops a strong ability to provide practical assistance to NGOs that serve victims of human trafficking.
AK: If you were given 3 unlimited resources to use in the fight against trafficking, what would they be and how would you use them?
Media – I would have the story of human trafficking in every paper, in every school resource, and everywhere online.
Funding – Unlimited funding for victims is so important to their rehabilitation and recovery.
Support from Faith communities – Unlimited support and cooperation from faith communities would make a huge difference. We are all called to stand up for the vulnerable and oppressed.
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