On September 27, 2014, anti-human trafficking organization, [free-them], had their 5th Annual Freedom Walk in Toronto and their Inaugural Freedom Walk in Ottawa presented by The Fairmont Royal York to raise money for victims of human trafficking in Canada. The result of months of planning and collaboration, the walks brought together hundreds of people from across Ontario and Southern Quebec, united in their passion to end human trafficking. Many voices were heard speaking out against this injustice, but none so powerful as Toronto’s Master of Ceremony, International Artist Jully Black. After hearing the moving story of Timea Nagy, Sex Trafficking Survivor and Founder of Walk With Me, Jully Black felt compelled to sing Timea an impromptu rendition of Amazing Graze. Not a dry eye could be seen in the audience as everyone empathized with Timea’s plight and survivors like her. It was a rare moment that reinforced everyone’s resolve as freedom fighters.
It also allowed Timea an opportunity to bring attention to her new product line of hand sanitizers - Timea Cause. The proceeds of each sale go towards enabling Walk With Me to care for human trafficking victims that have been rescued. It’s the product that can turn someone’s life around.
[free-them] was also privileged and humbled to hear the inspiring words of Anuradha Koirala, Founder of Maiti Nepal. Through Maiti Nepal, Anuradha has assisted over 12,000 girls go from victims to survivors. Recipient of 30 national and international awards in recognition of her courageous acts and lifetime achievement including recognition as one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of the World, Anuradha has been making global waves with her fight against human trafficking.
In Ottawa, the atmosphere was electric as the Inaugural Freedom Walk proved to be a huge success. With a larger than anticipated turnout, hundreds of participants demonstrated their fight against human trafficking with a walk ending on the steps of Parliament. A winning combination of speakers such as Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney, Deputy Mayor Steve Desroches, Human Trafficking Survivor Simone Bell, Host Ken Evraire and Ottawa Police Detective Carolyn Botting made the event memorable. Never before in Ottawa has there been a walk for human trafficking of this magnitude.
Altogether, both walks saw just under 1000 attendees and raised over $40,000. The proceeds go towards [free-them]'s victim services partner, Walk With Me. Since 2010, [free-them] has helped to fund the rescue of over 280 victims through Walk With Me by rescuing victims from traffickers and providing them with transitional housing. This year, the [free-them] Freedom Walks struck a significant blow against human trafficking with their participant’s support. This year was a particularly special year as it marks the beginning of an even closer relationship with the federal government in Ottawa. When Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney led the Freedom Walk holding the [free-them] flag for the duration of the 4KM walk to show his support, citizens took notice. It was a poignant message and appropriate in light of Bill C-36 being put to a third reading in the House of Commons at the time.
Bill C-36 (the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act) has now passed 3rd reading in the House of Commons, and is in Second Reading in the Senate, which means it is poised to receive Royal Assent. This is a huge win for abolitionists who raised their voices against the heavily publicized opposition. At the House of Commons’ Second Reading, it was voted 139 for and 117 against - all NDP, Liberal and Green Party against and all Conservatives for. The controversial bill aims to eliminate the demand for sex purchasing while updating the tools that law enforcement have to protect exploited persons. If Bill C-36 becomes law:
Purchasing sexual services would become a crime. [free-them] recognizes that the demand for sexual services vastly outweighs the willing supply and human trafficking fills the extremely large gap. Criminalizing the purchase of sexual services will vastly decrease the number of sex trafficking victims. This law also stands up for victims by recognizing the damaging role that sex purchasers play in their victimization.
Receiving material benefit from exploiting another person would be a crime. [free-them] recognizes that exploitive arrangements by definition harm others and should be considered a crime.
Advertising the services of another person would be a crime. If an independent operator sells their services, this would be entirely legal. [free-them] recognizes that people who advertise the sex services of others are almost always in an exploitative relationship with that person.
Selling sexual services near a playground or daycare would be a summary conviction. [free-them] recognizes that children should not be exposed to the sale and purchase of sexual services, however, [free-them] is pleased to see that selling sex services in other locations is not a crime, as it recognizes that sex sellers need support and compassion, and not criminalization.
The penalty for exploiting others would be raised. [free-them] is pleased to see that Canada is taking the exploitation of others as a serious matter with grave consequences.
The government would commit $20 million in funding. [free-them] is pleased to see that the government is adding funding to ensure the practical implementation of the new law. Without the funding, the law would pass without real world applications.
These changes demonstrate clearly that Canada stands up for victims of human trafficking by criminalizing the exploiters and providing law enforcement with the tools they need to arrest and prosecute the offenders. In the exploitative relationship between trafficker and victim, grooming, brainwashing and manipulation make the distinction between sex trafficking and prostitution barely perceptible even to the victim. This means that there is no simple solution to the problem of sex trafficking, but Bill C-36 took a huge step towards protecting these exploited persons who have historically been overlooked. When Bill C-36 becomes law, history will be made and the world will remember that Canada took a stand for sex trafficking victims. Slowly, but surely, we can make human trafficking history.