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‘Our spirits are not for sale or trade’ – PSA’s to hit national media

Tuesday February 11, 2014

Although no hard evidence shows how prevalent human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls in Canada is, it is nonetheless alive and a growing issue.

For instance, this past summer Christine Stark, a masters student from the University of Minnesota, said Indigenous women and girls are being trafficked across Lake Superior between Thunder Bay and Duluth, Minnesota.

Stark’s research stemmed from a 2007 report on prostitution in Minnesota. The report included over 100 interviews with Indigenous women who have been sexually trafficked.

A few weeks later the RCMP denied any evidence of Indigenous women being trafficked, but they know the activity exists.

As of November 2013, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC) reported 165 cases since 2004 where human trafficking specific charges were laid. Some of these cases involved Indigenous women trafficked in Canada for the purpose of sexual exploitation, according to a statement.

As part of a prevention strategy, the National Association of Friendship Centres will soon release four national public service announcements about human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls.

With help from Indigenous youth through a video competition, the following messages will be shared with national and Indigenous media outlets expected to be distributed in mid-February;
‘Don’t sell your spirit, don’t sell my spirit, don’t sell our spirit,’ ‘Our spirits are not for sale or trade,’ and ‘Speak up, speak out, human trafficking is happening in our communities.’

“We needed to tell this from the perspective of youth, in particular,” says Jeffrey Cyr, executive director of the association.

“It’s [actually] happening in our own communities.”

The association started to work with Public Safety more than a year ago to address the issue.
Shortly after a national advisory committee was created made up of Indigenous community members and organizations such as PACT-Ottawa and ACT Alberta; organizations dedicated to ending exploitation.

Cyr says the association worked toward engaging the friendship movement on the issue despite having limited resources.

“I think the general awareness of human trafficking is quite low,” says Cyr.

Cyr was quick to refer to the growing and disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“The research isn’t there to do a clear correlation between the two,” says Cyr. “But you would get the impression that something is going on.”

Although supportive about raising awareness on human trafficking, Bridget Perrier, an ex-sex trade worker, hoped NAFC would have reached out to her for the campaign.

As an Indigenous woman, Bridget Perrier has seen it all.

From the time she was just 12 years old, she was lured into prostitution. Now, she is an educator of; a large survivor-led organization dedicated to raising awareness about the sex trade and helping women leave the industry.

“If you look across the country, prostitution is thriving, and the girls are getting younger,” says Perrier.

Perrier says some girls are as young as 10 years old, particularly in Winnipeg.

She would also like to see campaigns that will target the men. For instance, messages that might read, ‘Real men don’t buy sex” or ‘Our women aren’t for sale.’

Perrier says when she was 13 years old, she was just one of the women trafficked between Thunder Bay and Duluth.

“That movement of the women on the ship,” says Perrier. “It was thriving when I was working [on it].”

“The aboriginal girls had it worse,” Perrier says. At the time, she said she appeared non-Indigenous because of her lighter skin colour.

Because of their race, Indigenous women were treated like garbage, according to Perrier.

As part of addressing human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, being one of the RMCP’s five strategic priorities, the RCMP continues to work with communities and youth. To date the HTNCC distributed over 17,800 human trafficking awareness toolkits across Canada including Indigenous communities.

In bringing traffickers to justice, the RCMP HTNCC is currently developing an investigator’s guidebook for law enforcement officers when working with victims of human trafficking.

The National Association of Friendship Centres intends to keep the dialogue moving with the government.

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