Each year, millions of children, women and men are trafficked into forced labour, domestic servitude and sex. It’s a multi-billion dollar global business, and estimates of the number of Canadians lost annually to this trade range as high as 16,000.
Human trafficking-for which Canada is a country of source, transit and destination-was front and centre at a conference held Nov. 14 at the Sorrento Retreat Centre in Sorrento, B.C.-a week after Canada’s new prostitution law, Bill C-36, received royal assent. Sponsored by the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) Canada in partnership with the Compass Rose Society of Canada, the event attracted about 50 people, lay and clergy.
The emotional core of the conference was the story of its first speaker, Glendene Grant of Kamloops, B.C., whose “typical girl next door” daughter Jessie Foster was forced into prostitution in the U.S. at age 20. She had gone on vacation to New York and Atlantic City with a trusted male friend she’d known since she was 15. Unbeknownst to Jessie, the smooth-talking friend had become a sex trade recruiter, and she ended up in a house in Las Vegas, coerced into sexual captivity.
Grant has not seen her daughter since Christmas Day 2005 and has not spoken to her since April 2006. Thanks to her mother’s efforts, Jessie’s case received wide media attention in the U.S., but to no avail. “I think she may have been murdered or moved out to another country,” said Grant. She has since worked tirelessly to prevent others from meeting her daughter’s fate, founding the organization MATH, Mothers Against Human Trafficking.
“I was totally ignorant that such a thing could happen so easily and effortlessly,” said the Rev. Canon Dr. Alice Medcof, conference moderator and ecclesiastical province of Canada link for IAWN.
Joy Smith, a Winnipeg MP, noted that traffickers make up to $280,000 per victim. “It’s second only to the drug trade in profits, and it’s happening in every community” she said. And young middle-class girls are quite susceptible. “They are easy to convince, easy to scare, easy to shame. It’s a gigantic manipulative game.”
Sister of Charity Nancy Brown, an advocate for young people at risk for sexual exploitation, outlined programs and services offered by Covenant House and the Salvation Army. She called the conference important in light of changes to Canada’s prostitution laws. “These new laws will only be effective if they are implemented in the community, said Brown. “Education of the public will be key. This conference was a good starting point for educating members of the faith community as to their particular roles in advocacy.”
TV coverage of the event by CFJC Kamloops can be viewed online. In the coming months, IAWN’s website will make available a free e-book with conference presentations, reference materials and reflections from participants.
The world’s faith leaders are joining the efforts against human trafficking. In March, the Vatican, the Anglican Communion and the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University signed an accord to work to end this global scourge by 2020. “The Archbishop of Canterbury would like every parish across the Anglican Communion to be having a conversation about human trafficking. It’s the number one concern,” said Medcof.
-with files from Mary Margaret Dempster
Editor’s note: A correction has been made to Glendene Grant’s home city.