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Human Trafficking Reference Group gathers preliminary information

A meeting of a national Human Trafficking Reference Group took place on Sept. 25-26 at the offices of the General Synod in Toronto, deepening the commitment and action of the Anglican Church of Canada to support the eradication of human trafficking.

Seven Anglicans made up the reference group, which included representatives for each of the four ecclesiastical provinces. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and General Secretary Michael Thompson, along with co-chairs Andrea Mann and Ryan Weston invited members based on their involvement with vulnerable communities affected by issues such as sex trafficking and migrant justice.

Both the Primate and General Secretary attended the Human Trafficking Reference Group meeting, along with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and three representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada active in work for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation built around the subtheme Human Beings—Not for Sale.

Those present at the meeting shared a wealth of information laying out the scope of human trafficking and how Anglicans across Canada are working to help end it.

“I think the group discerned that this was an important and serious concern, whose moment … for further church leadership and involvement had arrived,” co-chair Andrea Mann said.

“There was a sense that we as a church, or perhaps even beyond that as a Canadian society, were in a kairos moment—which is to say that the hand or the voice of the Spirit of God was breaking into the awareness of the church to learn about this egregious human rights violation in Canada, which very few people seem to know about, and to raise awareness to support both church and community-based initiatives … [towards] eradicating human trafficking and modern slavery, not only in Canada, but globally.”

Group members learned about myriad forms of trafficking detailed by speakers that included staff members from the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking.

“We realized that it’s a widespread issue and there are many forms of human trafficking, and that we are not positioned to respond to all of them,” co-chair Ryan Weston said. “So we tried to identify particular pieces that we could specifically engage in.”

Areas for potentially increased church engagement included confronting forced sexual exploitation as well as labour trafficking, which ties into the plight of migrant workers and individuals without legal status.

The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was a major focus; many Anglicans are currently participating in Sisters in Spirit vigils along with other community organizations. Group members also discussed the plight of Indigenous boys and men who, Weston said, “have been lost to their communities who are waiting and praying for them to come home.”

Ongoing Anglican responses to trafficking include participation in direct outreach programs to serve marginalized people vulnerable to or currently involved in trafficking, and education initiatives such as the Ragdoll Project, discussed by assistant parish priest John VanStone at the June meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS).

Canadian Anglicans are also active in groups such as the International Anglican Women’s Network and Ecumenical Women—who continue to travel every March to discuss gender-based violence and trafficking at annual hearings from the UN Council on the Status of Women—as well as ecumenical organizations such as KAIROS and the Canadian Council of Churches.

“I think part of the outcome [of the meeting] is a commitment to helping to spread that work, to spread the awareness of what’s happening in order to spur responsive action in communities that are impacted,” Weston said. “And all communities are impacted by it.”

Looking ahead, members of the Human Trafficking Reference Group will now summarize their two days of discussion in a report to be sent to CoGS in advance of its November meeting—after which they will consider their next steps, Mann said.

“It could be that when we begin to sort of see the emergence of a work plan framework, there’ll be some folks from the reference group either wanting to help us flesh out that work plan, or on the ground to help us get that work underway locally.”

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