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First-time participant Brooke Colmer stands at Parliament Hill; the A21 Walk for Freedom's final destination. [Photo © Megan Sibley]

More than one hundred people walked together from Jack Purcell Park to Parliament Hill on Oct. 14, many dressed in black shirts and yellow bandannas to raise awareness of human trafficking. 

The ‘Walk for Freedom’ was part of a global fundraising and awareness campaign.

“(Human trafficking) is something that is hurting our sisters, our brothers, our kids,” said Mary Daniel, one of the organizers at Walk for Freedom. “It is something we need to talk about today, not tomorrow. People are being hurt right now.”

Participants were silent during the walk. In a symbolic gesture, they became a reflection of someone else. When they reached Parliament Hill, they removed their bandanas to show they are no longer silent and that they would speak for victims. 

Walkers placed a yellow sash with the name of a former slave over their mouths, to signify that those involved in human trafficking have no voice. [Photo © Megan Sibley]

“We want to make known that human trafficking exists. It exists in Canada, exists right here in Ottawa,” said Brooke Colmer, one of the participants in the event. 

While Ontario only makes up one-third of the total population, it accounts for more than two-thirds of human trafficking cases in Canada, according to a data released last year by Statistics Canada.  

And the numbers are underreported, according to Jodi Mosley, the training coordinator at Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking, an organization that provides community support and prevention of trafficking. 

She is also the board chair of A New Day, which is a new initiative that will launch in December 2017 or January 2018. Both organizations are based in Ottawa.

Mosley said the majority trafficking victims she is currently working with have never reported their experiences to the police. 

“Can you image what’s really happening,” she said.

Government funding 

Some are encouraged that recent funding announcements from the Ontario government will help provide more help for trafficking victims.

On June 2016, the government announced that it will allocate up to $72 million over four years to increase awareness and co-ordination, enhance justice-sector initiatives and improve survivors’ access to services, said Denelle Balfour, the media relations officer at Ministry of the Status of Women.  

According to Balfour, The Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office will be working with the 44 organizations, which will receive approximately $18.6 million, over the next three years. 

Map: Anti-trafficking organizations in Ontario

The colours show the provincial funding they receive (purple: $0 to $400,000, blue: $400,000 to $800,000, green: $800,000 to $1,200,000, yellow: $1,200,000 to $1,600,000 and red: $1,600,000 to $2,000,000)

On September 2017, the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of the Status of Women announced the successful recipients of the Community Supports Fund and the Indigenous-led Initiatives Fund. 

“I am aware that Ontario has the highest rate of trafficking,” added Mosley. “If Ottawa has the highest per capita, then these new initiatives and programs are much needed.”

Community support programs 

Local organizations such A New Day will receive $1.6 million from the community support fund over the next three years, which will be used to support commercial sexually exploited victim.

“We are just excited that finally Ottawa area is actually going to have programs (to) support women and children and men who have been trafficked,” said Mosley.

A New Day will provide a four-bed residential treatment program for young women survivors from human trafficking.

Mosley added when they were developing this program, they consulted with woman who have lived experience. 

“One woman said, ‘I wish these services that we are developing now, could [have been] available twenty years ago, [at] the time I was being trafficked.”

Participants cross Elgin Street in Ottawa, as part of the walk in recognition that slavery is still prevalent in communities around the world. [Photo © Megan Sibley]

Among the many kinds of human trafficking, most are for the purpose of sexual exploitation, according to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. 

“Persons who have been trafficked through commercial and sexual exploitation have endured situations that we cannot even fathom” said Mosley. “She has been in every position, with so many different men, that we cannot even imagine. How is she supposed to go back and have a normal life?” 

Emphasis on mental health 

Experts say that people who have experienced forced sexual intercourse need specialized mental health services. 

According to Aalya Ahmad, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Carleton University, addressing post traumatic stress disorder is a significant part of the support survivors need.

“Often, people who have been involved in trafficking and sex work get stigmatized by their experiences,” said Ahmad. “So, we should remove the stigma, and help them to realize that they have been victimized. They don’t deserve what happened to them.” 

Part of this, say many experts, involves raising awareness in communities, part of the point of the Walk for Freedom.

“It is time to speak about it, and speak about it freely,” said Daniel. “You are not alone. It’s not a taboo. It’s never the victim’s fault.”     

Even the youngest stroller-ridden supporters were some of the one hundred walkers involved in the event on October 14th. [Photo © Megan Sibley]


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