Indigenous women are guiding a new collaborative project aimed at combatting human trafficking in Alberta.
Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced the project entitled Integrated Response for Victims of Sex Trafficking and Exploitation: Red Deer North, Alberta on Wednesday. The federal government has committed nearly $500,000 over four years to REACH Edmonton, who will oversee the project.
“The object of this project to develop a coordinated community response to victims of human trafficking and Red Deer and Edmonton and surrounding communities, driven by their needs,” Blair said.
“All aspects of this project will be delivered in a trauma informed and culturally sensitive manner, guided by Indigenous women.”
Working closely with law enforcement and community partners, such as Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), the project will help identify locations where individuals may be at increased risk of being trafficked.
“That in turn can help provide interventions and immediate safety and transitional support for the victims of this terrible crime,” Blair said.
The funding will also help REACH Edmonton, an organization focusing on increasing community safety and inclusion, to develop a curriculum and Alberta-specific training for front-line workers who may come across victims of human trafficking.
“This curriculum will increase the capacity of law enforcement, service providers and shelter workers to meet the needs of victims of human trafficking in a way that is trauma informed and sensitive to the victim’s lived experience.”
Between 2009 to 2016, according to Statistics Canada, 8.2 per cent of all of Canada’s human trafficking cases were reported in Alberta. That number is behind Quebec, at 13.6 per cent, and Ontario, at 65.8 per cent.
Jan Fox, executive director of REACH Edmonton, said she has heard anecdotally that trafficking has gone underground and become much worse through the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the hope is with this new funding and collaboration with police and other agencies, they will be able to get a better look at the human trafficking situation in Alberta.
REACH Edmonton will also work to educate other sectors about human trafficking, like the hotel industry, hair salons and barber shops. They will also ensure the training for front-line responders is trauma-informed and supports victims.
“We’re building the training as we go right now, but it’s going to be very much about understanding what to look for, how to approach it, and how to find the immediate resources,” Fox said.
“We may find that there are gaps in terms of services available. That’s important to know. And everything that we do will be very much evidence based.”