Standing at the phone booth in the greyhound bus terminal, Vancouver BC, on a beautiful hot July afternoon. I was a sixteen but looked all of 12 years old, because of my scrawny frame and skin tanned from working for the past month at a hotel on the Sunshine Coast. I was attempting to connect with the hippy-like den mother who was to host several of us for a weekend of hanging out and attending the Jethro Tull concert. By myself, as my co-workers and fellow celebrants had travelled a day earlier, I was hot, hungry, and had the pallor of a kid who had too many nights after work sharing drugs and listening to music with new found friends. On my third dime the phone was answered, and an address was being offered. At that moment a nice guy, a perfect stranger, came beside me and offered a pencil. It is a moment that I reflect upon as significant in what did not happen. It has stayed with me like one of the choices of pills in the Matrix movie, as I declined the offer. I avoided this act of generosity from a stranger and the events that could have led from it. I was one unanswered phone call or one offer of help taken, that may have led to a dramatically different course in my life.
This is how it often starts for victims of exploitation and human trafficking and why that moment has stayed with me. At that moment the smallest of difference in my circumstance would have made me available to be dependent on either the nice guy at the bus terminal or my new found friends who went with me to theconcert. For young people every day in every city, their circumstance leads them on a path that quickly turns them into someone who is exploited by others, forcibly put to work in the sex trade, sweatshops or other forms of force labour. I have learned how gangs recruit young girls from summer vacations at the lake by giving them a ride on a “party boat”. Some in less than a week are on the streets of Vancouver or Calgary. People who sell other people take advantage of their weaknesses. Are they a vulnerable person with a debt that cannot be paid, or perhaps looking for romantic love and meet the wrong boyfriend? Often exploited people are lonely, without options, immigration status questionable, dependent on drugs or alcohol, suffering from mental illness, homeless, or obligated to a family debt. This makes people of all ages candidates to join the over 27 million who are trafficked around the world.
Thats why I walked on October 14, in the Walk for Freedom, a walk shared in 660 cities around the world. Its about the rest of us seeing that slavery and human trafficking are all around us. It shouldn’t be but it is….
When we moved back to Calgary ten years ago, my wife and I were on an intense search for a new home seeing 14 homes for sale in one day! One though was memorable in an unexpected way. The listing had shown that it was earning rent for owners at 3 times the level of similar homes. We wanted to see what made the home so valuable. We were shocked to discover that it was not the amenities of the house, but the dozens of Asian men who lived in the tiny rooms made with plywood walls that divided the house into small sections. I will also remember that I failed to act, to consider the possibility that these men were not there of their own free will, and that they were were being exploited for forced labour. You see there is no age, race, or gender boundary preventing people from becoming victims of human trafficking. I was unaware, and now I am not.
There is hope to stop this, the second fastest growing criminal activity in the world, between drugs and weapon smuggling in level of revenue.
Thats why I walked on October 14, in the Walk For Freedom. It is about the rest of us seeing that slavery and human trafficking are all around us. It shouldn’t be, and there are people bringing awareness and hope…
WE can take action by supporting the movement of organizations who are raising awareness and The A21.org Walk for Freedom was hosted by Not in My City https://www.notinmycity.ca and this organization is working to help raise our awareness of the presence of human trafficking in Calgary. I am happy to be a regular contributor through Paul Brandt’s https://www.notinmycity.ca/new-page-1 Buck Spring Foundation. By participating in the walk I learned that there is a person being trafficked in every ten blocks of the city of Calgary and that at 1200 young people are victims in Calgary. I listened to this podcast and learned how action has helped three individuals whose names were celebrated on the bandanas worn during the walk.
The A21.org is a global initiative was created to eradicating human trafficking through awareness, intervention, and aftercare. They have some great initiatives in addition to the walk, including a social enterprise that gives the opportunity for victims of human trafficking to earn income from products sold on their enterprise. For the walk I created a small fundraising page. While I recognize that the funds are $US and the Canadian tax receipt isn’t handy, sometimes participating in a global movement is a little inconvenient. Feel free to contribute to my fundraising page.
For years now my wife, Karen and I have supported IJM http://www.ijm.ca, as Freedom Partners. This successful global non-government organization works with legal teams in countries around the world to free people from bondage.
Perhaps you need to walk a little closer to home. Perhaps you know someone who is a victim of human trafficking, or you would like to help recovery. Here are links to some of the local organizations that participated in this years walk:
The Experience Church is a downtown community that extends its Christian ministries to the spiritual needs of communities including those at risk throughout the downtown core.
Chill Is a ministry, whose aim is to journey with individuals who have been affected by sexual exploitation. Our hope is to provide a community of safety and belonging where individuals are empowered, equipped, and educated.
Next Steps Ministries Next Step Ministries is a Christian organization delivering programs that work together to help women exit sexual exploitation and move towards a life of hope and healing.
The Joy Smith Foundation works to ensure that every Canadian man, woman and child is safe from manipulation, force, or abuse of power designed to lure and exploit them into the sex trade or forced labour.
If you are still reading you have joined me in this year’s walk, and like me, you are more aware. Every walk is about putting one foot in front of another. Will you join me in my stroll? Perhaps by supporting one of the organizations listed above, or perhaps in the Walk for Freedom October 20, 2018. I look forward to your company on this journey.
Thank you to Karen Ellard and Paula Fraser for editorial contributions to this post.