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Anti-human trafficking funding announced as Olds church plans awareness

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is Feb. 22
The Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre in Red Deer is one of 20 Alberta organizations sharing in new anti-human trafficking funding announced Tuesday. Screenshot

OLDS As the provincial government marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22 with a funding announcement, an Olds church is readying to launch its own effort to create awareness of the issue.

On Thursday, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis announced that $3.5 million is being provided to 20 anti-human trafficking community organizations in the province.

“Human trafficking is an unthinkable crime that denies a person their safety, freedom and individuality. Fighting this heinous crime is a key priority for Alberta’s government. The funding we’ve announced will be used by community organizations and service providers to increase and strengthen wraparound supports for survivors, break the cycle of recidivism for victims and support efforts to uproot the criminal networks profiting from the cruelty they inflict on Albertans,” said Ellis in announcing the funding.

Among the organizations receiving funding is the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre in Red Deer along with numerous groups that serve the whole province.

According to the Alberta government, there were 528 police-reported incidents of human trafficking in Canada in 2022, but most incidents go unreported, and the true number of cases and victims is unknown.

As part of its Lent parish mission, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Olds is holding a prayer service on March 13, after which the topic of human trafficking will be discussed.

Sundre-area resident Naomi Holland, who runs a website concerning human trafficking called Redeemed With A Purpose, will speak at 7 p.m.

In an email, Holland indicated that area residents have no idea of how horrific the human trafficking trade is and how easily their own children or other relatives can be ensnared in it.

“I worked 18 years with victims of human trafficking in Calgary and in Nepal,” she wrote.

“I personally lived as a house mom in a recovery home for survivors of sex trafficking. In the two years I lived there, I lived with 42 women fleeing the sex trade.

“I saw first-hand what human traffickers (also called pimps) can and will do to ensure nothing gets in the way of their profit.

“One girl had two broken arms because she tried to hide a quarter from her pimp to call a cab. This was in the days it cost .25 to make a call.

“Now these same traffickers are online going after our children. We should all be concerned about human trafficking.” 

Holland said human traffickers search for victims online and people – especially children -- are very vulnerable.

"Traffickers) are charming, manipulative, potentially young and often pose as boyfriends. Often victims do not know they will be trafficked until it is too late,” she wrote.

“Vulnerable can mean bored, spending hours online without accountability or an involved parent, wanting a boyfriend or not knowing the signs.

“Traffickers identify an unmet need. This can be emotional, physical, mental, financial, recognition, wanting more followers etc. and (they) pour into that need. This is called grooming.” 

Holland quoted an FBI agent on the Save The Kids podcast.

"The most dangerous place for a child today is in their room, with the door closed on a smart device."

Sandra Boutwell, a spokesperson for the parish mission organizing committee which is a subcommittee of the local Catholic Women’s League, says the idea for the topic -- as well as a separate session on domestic violence the preceding night, was born when the committee decided to have a social justice theme to its activities this year.  

“I guess we wanted to have something that was connected to the local community that is as well has a worldwide concern,” she said, noting some members of the committee had seen The Sound of Freedom, a movie about human trafficking.

“That had had kind of like opened our eyes to the concern of human trafficking and how most people don't recognize the degree of harm that is out there with it,” she said.

Boutwell said too many people don’t understand how easily human trafficking can occur, and because they’re so busy with day-to-day life those concerns get pushed aside “until it hits home personally.”

“Unfortunately, if it happens to be your own child that gets entrapped into human trafficking through pornography or whatever, then you're left with double ‘what ifs’ or ‘I could have,’ or things like that,” Boutwell said.

Along with Tuesday's Alberta government funding announcement, the province has also named Angela Adsit and Paul Brandt as the new co-chairs for the Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons board of directors.

In their leadership roles, Brandt and Adsit will provide survivor-centred and culturally relevant guidance to the board. In the coming months, they will collaborate with community partners to fill remaining board positions and staff operations.

To fight against human trafficking, Alberta’s government developed the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, which submitted its final report in August of 2021. The report had five primary recommendations for government to assist in combating human trafficking.

The first of these was to create an Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which will facilitate the implementation of the remaining recommendations. Alberta’s government committed $4 million over two years to make this office a reality.

- With files from Mountain View Today staff

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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