By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
The Government of Alberta is upping its efforts to combat human trafficking and support survivors by adopting 18 of the 19 calls to action outlined in a final report from the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force.
Creating an Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AOCTIP), establishing coordinated awareness, education and training programs, increased access to health and wellness services for survivors and human-trafficking focused legislative and judicial modifications are among the forthcoming reforms called for by the task force in “The Reading Stone: The Survivor’s Lens to Human Trafficking.”
Each of the recommendations came with either short-term (two year) or medium-term (three to five year) completion targets. Forming AOCTIP, initiating the Coordinated Alberta Community Response Model and developing Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum to foster knowledge about consent, safety, human rights and freedom are some of the many urgent assignments on the docket.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said failing to take decisive steps against this criminal scourge invites its growth. According to a 2014 report from the International Labour Force, “human trafficking is a $150-billion per year global industry, and the second largest source of illegal income in the world.”
“It is the moral obligation of any government to use the extraordinary powers that we have to protect the most vulnerable members amongst us,” said Kenney. “There is still a daunting amount of work to be done to end human trafficking and its devastating impacts on the lives of its victims and survivors.”
Patricia Vargas, the director of children, family and community service at Catholic Social Services of Alberta in Edmonton, explained to The Catholic Register why the authors thought a reading stone was an ideal evocative and metaphorical image.
“For me the reading stone was a metaphor of examining human trafficking through the looking glass of people with lived experiences,” said Vargas. “It’s about encouraging us not to look at the problem like you would a manual. We want to reflect upon the impacts and humanity.”
Government of Alberta data shows there were 511 police-reported human trafficking incidents in Canada in 2019, 31 of which occurred in Alberta. That’s a 44-per-cent increase over the 315 tabulated in 2018. Statistics Canada is expected to release its 2020 report in the coming weeks.
Seven expert professionals assigned to the task force in May 2020 worked well over a year in collaboration with over 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to produce The Reading Stone. The report was submitted on Aug. 31 last year for governmental review.
Country music artist Paul Brandt, the founder of the Calgary-based #NotInMyCity awareness and action organization combatting sexual exploitation and trafficking, chaired the task force during this journey. Brandt expressed appreciation for the entire experience in a written media statement.
“Stewarding this learning has been a profound and sacred privilege,” Brandt wrote. “Hearing the accounts of trauma, dehumanization, abuse and exploitation changed us. It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of this crime. Upholding the individual rights of Canadians whose lives are being impacted by modern day slavery has Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as human rights, implications, which reach into every aspect of Canadian society. To uphold the rights of victims and survivors of human trafficking is to uphold the cause of freedom.”
Being present for people with lived experiences is a core takeaway from the task force experience that will influence Vargas’ future work.
“I heard great passion for being there for people impacted by (trafficking). One of the great things was that the police officers never came to the table saying, ‘we need to arrest our way out of this.’ There was a focus on the victims,” she said.
“They shared how they wish there were more open doors for them to get the help they needed, as they felt there were not enough doors. That’s painful because we are here, at least for me, to provide services to people who are experiencing (exploitation). If you fail in a certain way, what can you do better?”