The Rev. Canon David Burrows speaks at a community forum at St. Augustine's Parish, part of a regional consultation in St. John's, Nfld. on the eradication of human trafficking.

Consultation hears port traffic raises vulnerability for exploitation in St. John’s, Nfld.

Sea traffic is a major means of transport for human trafficking and exploitation in regions on the Atlantic coast, representatives from dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada learned at a recent consultation in St. John’s, Nfld.

This second of four national consultations on the eradication of human trafficking took place from April 16-18 at Queen’s College, Memorial University of Newfoundland. The event followed an earlier consultation for the Province of Ontario in Pickering.

The eastern consultation raised the particular concern of how human trafficking manifests itself in seafaring regions with major port centres. The Ecclesiastical Province of Canada includes the three dioceses in Newfoundland as well as the dioceses of Quebec, Montreal, Fredericton, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“We identified that in each of the dioceses of the ecclesiastical province, there are at least one or two major ports,” organizing team member the Rev. Canon David Burrows said. “So, aspects of human trafficking are pretty high from the perspective of international travel and labour exploitation, all those various pieces.”

One of the major lessons from the consultation, Burrows said, was that through traffic at seaports in Eastern regions, “we have these potentials for vulnerability in each of our dioceses that are just on our door front.”

Labour exploitation is a concern in dioceses represented at the consultation. Participants learned that exploitation related to sex work accounts for approximately 10 to 15 per cent of trafficking cases in the region, with other forms of labour exploitation making up the majority.

Burrows cited two cases in the Greater St. John’s region over the past decade in which container ships arrived with the owners of the vessel bankrupt, and foreign sailors did not have their own passports to return home. As a result, the sailors spent several months aboard the boat while local community members provided support for items such as food and medical care.

“One of the conversations that we had around that was the continued support and resources needed to be given to the Mission to Seafarers to help establish and continue the great relations that we have with seafarers as they come into the various ports, so that we can identify when there may or may not be issues with regards to equity and the support of workers in the Maritime trade.”

Community partnerships

A key point at the consultation was a community forum on April 17, at which participants invited the wider public to join the conversation about the eradication of human trafficking. The ensuing discussion brought together city councillors, university students, and community groups engaged in support of vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Among these organizations is Living in Community, a new board formed in the St. John’s region aimed at integrating the community into accepting and acknowledging the presence of sex work and making it a safe environment, while also addressing potentials for human trafficking within the sex trade.

Another active group is the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.), a sex worker advocacy program that supports women with past or present experience in the sex trade. The only program of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador, S.H.O.P. provides outreach in St. John’s and surrounding communities.

Speaking at the forum, S.H.O.P. program coordinator Heather Jarvis discussed the group’s “rare and unique partnership” with representatives of the Anglican community, and how dominant practices and policies in the anti-trafficking movement can often unintentionally have the effect of further marginalizing sex workers, Indigenous women, criminalized women, and other vulnerable groups.

One of the most important lessons that Anglicans have learned, Jarvis said, is the importance of recognizing that people do not always fit easily into one category. She offered the example of anti-trafficking groups or individuals deciding that a person who does not identify as a “trafficked victim” does not require support, which can leave that person vulnerable to actual trafficking.

“To be perfectly honest, historically the church has not been friends to the kinds of communities that I work on,” Jarvis said. “So, to have such a strong partnership is really something that we’re very proud of.

“The Anglican Church has been instrumental in helping our program do some of the frontline human rights-based work that we do, which does include fighting human trafficking, but also fighting the ways in which human trafficking can sometimes have even marginalized people left behind.”

“There are sex workers that are part of the Anglican community,” she added. “And they’ve been very willing to acknowledge that and recognize that the work of the Anglican Church needs to sometimes be outside of the church institution itself, and in our streets and in our communities. And what that work looks like is building relationships, like they’ve done with us.”

‘A keen willingness to learn’

Dr. Andrea Mann, General Synod lead staff for the human trafficking consultations along with Dr. Ryan Weston, said the St. John’s symposium drew a comparable number of participants as the gathering in Pickering. She described those in attendance as representing a cross-section of Anglicans, hailing from large and small cities, port towns, rural areas, and small fishing outposts, but united by “a strong passion for social justice, and a keen willingness to learn and to be effective leaders in eradicating trafficking and slavery in their local dioceses and local communities.”

Worship and liturgy throughout the consultation was prepared by the Ven. Charlene Taylor, who highlighted connections between biblical stories and people engaged in forced migration and slavery. As at the Ontario consultation, a chaplain was present to help participants process the often-difficult subject matter.

“These gatherings raise our awareness about physical and emotional violence and fraud and harm, especially against children and young people,” Mann said. “They require learning a number of uncomfortable and devastating truths about some of our local communities.

“They can be overwhelming conversations and presentations on both the scale of trafficking and slavery in the world today, and its organization of the profits and the greed, and of how we are complicit in these systems if we don’t know more. I think people were particularly struck with how we can so quickly become complicit if we don’t understand the supply chains involved in the goods and services that we import.”

Following the consultations for the ecclesiastical provinces of Ontario and Canada, two more regional consultations for the ecclesiastical provinces of Rupert’s Land and BC/Yukon on eradicating human trafficking will take place before General Synod 2019.

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