Woman's Edmonton slaying spurs creation of safety worker to battle human trafficking


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A new safety coordinator position to help vulnerable women exit human trafficking will pay dividends in the community, says a woman who advocated for change after her sister was slain in Edmonton last year.

The Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) recently hired a safety coordinator to pull together resources that can better help vulnerable women find stability. The position is part of a larger federally-funded framework working in tandem with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) and REACH Edmonton to combat human trafficking in the province.

Kate Quinn, CEASE’s executive director, said the coordinator will assess all relevant resources in the city to determine how they can pool their efforts and advocate better for women in need.

“The safety network coordinator will work with law enforcement to identify what is the danger assessment, okay if it’s high danger, where, where can we safely shelter,” said Quinn. “If it’s not immediate danger, that’ll be yet a different solution, and maybe the person has their own safe place, but they just need other kinds of support to leave the trafficking situation.”


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Quinn said two recent events showed the need to address gaps in services for vulnerable women. The first was a group of three women arriving at an Edmonton police station asking for help from specialized workers, who were hard to find, Quinn said. The other was the high-profile murder case of Lisa Arsenault, who was killed in a southside motel where she was staying.

A 32-year-old man from Camrose was charged in August with first-degree murder in relation to the May 2020 slaying. Edmonton police earlier released a sketch of a suspect and photos of a potential vehicle related to the killing of Arsenault, 48, at the Royal Lodge motel near near 38 Avenue and Gateway Boulevard.

Ashley Kowalewski, Arsenault’s sister, said her family was worried about Arsenault’s safety prior to her death and she had previously been taken to hospital under a mental health arrest.

Following her sister’s killing, Kowalewski lobbied for more to be done to help women like her sister, struggling to exit high risk lifestyles. She said the new position is a great start and has the potential to save lives.

“I think a position like this is going to bring that focus back on prevention, as opposed to, you know, after the fact advocacy,” said Kowalewski.

She hopes it will also keep dialogue open between community groups, law enforcement and businesses like the hotel industry to better keep women safe.

“I think this position has a lot of potential to, like I said, bump up the efforts on prevention, raise awareness and and you know hopefully inspire somebody to, to reach out for that help that’s out there,” said Kowalewski.


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Quinn said CEASE is part of a partnership with ALERT and REACH titled ‘Integrated Response for Victims of Sex Trafficking and Exploitation: Red Deer North.’ The project is aimed at creating a coordinated community response to assist victims of human trafficking in Edmonton, Red Deer and surrounding communities. The federal government has committed $500,000 to REACH over the next four years.

“We want to change the terrible things that are happening to people in our province,” said Quinn.

For Kowalewski, she is still searching for answers around her sister’s killing as the man accused of killing her began court proceedings with a preliminary hearing in April. She said a year after Arsenaut’s death, it is still difficult to get information from various organizations regarding when her sister was found, when police arrived at the scene and different aspects around the ensuing investigation.

“I got a big uphill battle to try to find some answers,” said Kowalewski, who had earlier described her sister as a mother and a loving person who went out of her way to help those in need, often giving $20 bills to people living rough around Whyte Avenue.

“Lisa was the kind of girl that made sure she had a salon date with her niece or take her niece to the cat cafe,” said Kowalewski at the time. “She just wanted to love everybody around her.”

Kowalewski said her sister lived a tough life, having been sexually abused as a child and then running away as a teen to Alberta from her family’s home in Ontario. She struggled with addiction and mental health problems and had trouble staying off the street, often living in halfway houses and shelters. Arsenault had been staying at the motel where her body was found.

“She could get down to the lowest of the lows, but then boom, she’d be back on top,” said Kowalewski, adding Arsenault was the “queen of comebacks” who remained strong in the face of her struggles and trauma. She’ll be remembered as someone who had an uncanny ability to empathize with the people around her.


— With files from Anna Junker


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