CoGS hears of slavery horrors, passes anti-human trafficking motion

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Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, lights a candle between prayers for people involved in human trafficking at a session of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) Saturday, June 24. Photo: Tali Folkins
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, holds a candle during prayers for people involved in human trafficking at a session of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) Saturday, June 24. Photo: Tali Folkins

Mississauga, Ont. 
Siobhan Bennett, a youth member from the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, had tears in her eyes even before she started addressing the other members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS). It wasn’t long before they knew why.

Bennett had asked if she might share something from her own life at a session on human trafficking Saturday, June 24. As she  fought to speak against her tears and sobs, she told them of an extremely disturbing encounter she’d had with the world of the human trafficking and child sex trade.

About four months after she had started working at a Niagara Falls hotel, Bennett said, a woman came into the hotel with a girl she said was her daughter. The girl, Bennett thought, couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. During the roughly two weeks that the two stayed at the hotel, the woman would talk to Bennett fairly regularly—it was her job, after all to give the woman dinner recommendations or to set her up with tours. The woman would often talk to Bennett about what she had done that day and reward her with tips, and eventually, Bennett said, she came to see her as a friend of sorts.

Then two undercover police officers, she said, arrived at the hotel saying they suspected someone staying there of human trafficking. Eventually they arrested the woman. Even more shocking, Bennett’s supervisor took her aside to tell her he had noticed the woman seemed especially interested in her, and he suspected she had been considering targeting her.

The episode, Bennett said, hit her very hard, for a number of reasons.

“I didn’t go back to work for like three days because I felt so dirty, I felt terrible,” she said. “This girl that was with her wasn’t her daughter—it was a victim. And I don’t know what happened to her…We were told that after they checked out, when the police went into the room, and when the maid service went in, that there were needles all over the floor… there were drugs, there were all kinds of nasty, horrible things in the room.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what this young woman went through, and she didn’t say anything. The number of times that she was at the front desk with an iPhone or whatever that was in her hand and she wasn’t saying anything—she didn’t look at me for help, she didn’t ask for anything, and I just wish that I could have known.”

Bennett’s story was just one of a number of human trafficking-related presentations CoGS heard at the session, which also included prayer and the lighting of candles by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; the screening of a short film on human trafficking by Anglican Video; and several minutes of silent reflection.

The session concluded with a motion that CoGS endorse Resolution 15.10, an anti-human trafficking resolution approved by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2012.

The resolution urges provinces of the Anglican Communion to take a number of anti-human trafficking steps, including raising awareness of the involvement of their own country in trafficking; identify resources for fighting trafficking; develop strategies in response to it; and to promote liturgical materials dealing with trafficking as resources for local churches. The motion was passed by CoGS unanimously.

Such shocking crimes may seem remote from Canadians’ daily lives, but in fact they’re not far from any of us, CoGS heard.

“Human trafficking is…not something that Canadians are always thinking about, but somewhere near here, right now, someone is being trafficked and exploited,” said Ryan Weston, lead animator of public witness for social and ecological justice at the Anglican Church of Canada. “Somewhere near the communities that you have all come from, someone is being trafficked and exploited, or recruited into trafficking.”

In Canada, people—mostly women and girls—are often trafficked for the sex trade. The most common age for recruitment into the sex trade in Canada is 13.5 years, according to the Anglican Video documentary. Canada is a source, destination and transit country for the trafficking of humans, but 93 per cent of Canada’s sex trafficking victims are from Canada itself, CoGS heard. Most children being trafficked in Canada are Indigenous.

Since the Anglican Consultative Council’s resolution in 2012, a number of steps have been taken to fight human trafficking throughout the Anglican Communion and within the Canadian church, said Andrea Mann, director of global relations at the Anglican Church of Canada. Last February, for example, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, together with Bartholemew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, pledged to fight the crime at a joint conference. The Anglican Alliance, a network of Anglican humanitarian organizations, has been working to transform these statements into action in various ways, Mann said.

Among measures taken by the Anglican Church of Canada is a new section of its website dedicated to human trafficking, said Mann.

Anglicans in Canada are already working to fight human trafficking, though the national staff isn’t always aware of all their efforts, Weston said.

“Anglicans are working on this issue and sometimes we don’t know that we’re doing that…Even as we do this work, we discover new things that are happening all the time,” he said. He encouraged members of CoGS to let the national office know of anti-human trafficking work going on in their areas.

CoGS also heard from the Rev. John VanStone, assistant priest at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Kingston, Ont., who is leading an anti-human trafficking initiative at his church this summer. VanStone encouraged CoGs members to get involved by raising awareness of the issue, lobbying governments for policy change, taking front line action involving both victims and perpetrators, praying, and supporting others doing these things. One of VanStone’s initiatives, the Ragdoll Prayer Project, involves participants making faceless rag dolls as a way of teaching children about human trafficking.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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