Thursday , 17 June 2021

Human trafficking awareness session highlights situation in Alberta

Last week, Alberta’s Rural Health Professionals Action Plan (RhPAP) hosted a Zoom meeting to create awareness on human trafficking in Alberta.

The session was led by ACT Alberta executives speaking on the rates of human trafficking, services they offer, and support for victims.

“Human Trafficking is currently the second most profitable illicit crime following closely behind the drug trade, and is reported to be the fasted growing overall,” said Jessica Brandon, ACT manager of education & training.

From 2008 – 2018, ACT Alberta found trafficking victims were 68 per cent female, 31 per cent male, 1 per cent transgender and were trafficked 36 per cent for sex and 64 per cent for labour.

Brandon said just under 58 per cent were Canadian citizens, and there was definitely a disproportionate representation of indigenous women and girls, being 22 per cent of those.

They said generally there are a lot more services aimed toward women and sexual abuse, so people who have experienced sex trafficking may have been served by other organizations – it’s not that it doesn’t happen, the labour trafficking just doesn’t have as as many services laid out.

The average age ACT assists for females is 26 and males is 28. ACT states that traffickers aren’t always strangers, but can include family members, romantic partners, friends, or employers. They currently only work with adults and coordinate referrals for children.

“Canada has a history of bringing migrant workers to work in low-wage occupations,” said Brandon.

“Exploitative conditions and temporary foreign workers often don’t know their rights and can sometimes be in the hands of the employers in remote areas without access to services, without proof of any wrongdoing.”

Rita St. Gelais, ACT manager of victim response, said that when situations are not considered trafficking, people are still provided resources that can still help.

Clients who are taken on complete a safety assessment, complete a formal intake and needs assessment, prioritize needs determining a road map for moving forward, participate in stakeholder meetings to ensure needs are met (counselling, arranging shelter, filling out residency or travel forms), receive ongoing emotional support or criminal justice and court support until their needs are met.

Gelais said that at the beginning of the pandemic their referral numbers dropped, but they sometimes receive 8 or 10 referrals all at once with one business trafficking multiple people. In a typical month, they receive 3-5 new referrals and have ongoing casework for 20-50 cases.

“In 2019, we had 41 confirmed human trafficking victims, 2 of them were victims of sex trafficking 37 were labour and 2 were sex and labour,” said Celia Guilford, ACT interim executive director.

“Sixteen were from Calgary, and 25 were from Edmonton, Red Deer Slave Lake, Grande Prairie, Lloydminster, Hinton, Medicine Hat, Winnipeg, Bonnyville, and Toronto.

“We know when we do our education series to people who haven’t heard about human trafficking or what human trafficking looks like here in Alberta that we get more referrals. More people are identified and that’s really what we want – we want to help more people.”

Brandon said RCMP and ACT collaborated on training for the Canadian Border Service Agency at an airport, and from that received 30 new referrals. She said that goes to show that once a person knows what to look for, it’s much easier to report.

For training offered to individuals or staff in rural hospitals, you can visit www.actalberta.org to register. HT-101 is a lunch and learn session open to the public held the third Thursday of each month. Aside from learning more, you can talk to your elected officials, or help victims by donating at www.actalberta.org/donate.

For concerns about trafficking they recommend calling the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.

“Thank you for sharing with rural Alberta,” said Holly Handfield, team lead for RhPAP community development and engagement.

“As we are more informed as citizens, we can reach out and help a little bit better and maybe be more equip to notice things or to ask the right places for the help that we need.”

About Angela Mouly

Angela comes to Lakeland Connect after leaving traditional newspaper where she spent the past four years reporting on community events. Her repertoire includes writing about history, politics, agriculture, sports, entertainment and art. She was the third place recipient of an AWNA General Excellence Award for “Best Front Page” during their 2016 Better Newspaper Competition. Angela has lived in rural Alberta all her life and in Vermilion for the past 15 years. She looks forward to continuing to serve and inform the Lakeland community by joining in people's many adventures and sharing their stories.