Extreme poverty drives many Filipino workers to work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program in an effort to support their families. Upon arrival, these migrant labourers can often find themselves trapped by employers who subject them to severe exploitation.
Under the TFW program, migrant labourers are not able to work for other employers or search for other jobs without being deported. Although not the experience of all migrant workers, some in fields such as agriculture may work from dawn to dusk and as much as 12-16 hours per day. Knowing few people in their new country, they are often isolated, confined to living quarters with no privacy.
Speaking to Canadian Anglicans at a recent panel discussion, Mario (not his real name) discussed losing his initial job after immigrating to Canada from the Philippines, which drove him to an illegal recruitment agency. The agency employed Mario at a mushroom farm, where he experienced harsh conditions and abuse from his employer. When Mario was diagnosed with cancer, he initially had no access to health care coverage.
The panel discussion was one of many presentations at a consultation, Engage Freedom! Anglicans Against Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, which took place from April 10-13 at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat Centre in Pickering, Ont. The first of four such consultations organized by the Anglican Church of Canada—one for each ecclesiastical province—the Pickering consultation marked the beginning of a new phase in church efforts to develop a more comprehensive policy towards the elimination of human trafficking.
Over the course of the meeting, those in attendance heard presentations from a succession of speakers, including government representatives, Indigenous leaders, Anglican Communion partners, and professionals engaged in efforts to end trafficking and modern slavery.
‘Engaging a wider part of the church’
Ryan Weston, co-chair of the Human Trafficking Reference Group, said the Pickering consultation was “part of an evolving process and an evolving engagement”—following discussion about human trafficking at the Council of General Synod, video production, and the gathering of preliminary information—with the aim of “engaging a wider part of the church as much as possible.”
“We’ve got folks from across the ecclesiastical province of Ontario that we hope will learn some things together and build some networks, and then go home and help lead some initiatives and engagement in their local areas,” Weston said.
“We intend to do them in each ecclesiastical province of the church, and then to have a focus on the issue at General Synod as well. So this will I hope lead to concrete action steps for all of us—for the diocese, for the parishes, and for the national church as well.”
The first full day of the meeting included a presentation from Barbara Gosse, director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, that offered an overview on the scope of human trafficking in Canada today.
The Rev. Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, provided details on the global context of trafficking and ecumenical efforts on a global scale to eradicate modern slavery.
“The role of the Anglican Alliance is to help share understanding, expertise, and models of effective work across the [Anglican] Communion,” Carnegie said. “We’ve already formed and held consultations with groups of practitioners in Africa, in Latin America, and in Asia, along with other denominations.
“Coming here to Canada for me is really exciting, because it’s about learning from the vision and the context here—bringing a few structures, things we’ve learned from other parts of the communion, but principally to provide a listening ear to see how the church in Canada is perceiving the problem; to hear from external experts about the response [that] is already there, and what could be the distinctive role of the church in that; and then to work with the group on shaping their response.”
Experiences of trafficking
Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation closed out the first day with a presentation on the relation between human trafficking and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as Indigenous boys and men.
The second day included the panel discussion detailing the experience of Filipino migrant workers, facilitated by Connie Sorio, migrant justice and Asia partnerships coordinator for KAIROS Canada.
Sorio described reconciliation with migrants as one of the main priorities of KAIROS, which engages in outreach efforts in underserved communities to locate migrant workers and the industries that employ them. In the last two years, for example, Sorio has travelled across the Maritimes and discovered a large number of migrant workers living in fish plants.
Throughout the consultation, participants learned about the experience of trafficking and its scope across Ontario and Canada. Leora Rich, manager of clinical services for East Metro Youth Services (EMYS)—which provides trauma therapy and peer mentorship for young people—reported an increase in the last four years in young people coming into the Scarborough EMYS office and detailing their experiences in the sex trade.
Rich detailed the stages of commercial exploitation, which typically play out as follows:
- Luring. Young people who feel vulnerable or want to escape stressful situations can feel special if a trafficker begins showing them attention. Rich reported that an estimated 85 per cent of clients become involved in human trafficking through a boyfriend.
- Grooming and Gaming. The trafficker will make the person feel as if they have a special bond. Reflecting a common pattern in abusive relationships, that bond is built up so that the victim later wants to return to this stage.
- Coercion and Manipulation. The client is conditioned to link having sex with getting back into the good graces of the trafficker. Usually by this point they are completely isolated from social supports such as friends and family.
- Exploitation. The trafficker holds the client in their grasp through a variety of methods, such as threatening family members or pointing to all the things the trafficker has bought for the victim and that they “owe” them.
Underscoring the prevalence of human trafficking in Ontario, Jessica Franklin, team lead for the Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office, presented a range of statistics and the strategy of the Ontario government to confront human trafficking. These efforts include awareness campaigns, improving access to services for survivors, and better coordinating police responses.
An epicentre for human trafficking in Canada, Ontario accounts for more than two-thirds of trafficking cases across the country. Sex traffickers most often target women and girls, homeless and marginalized youth, and young people who struggle with low-self esteem, bullying, addiction, or mental health issues. The age of recruitment can be as low as 12 or 13. Indigenous women and girls are particularly likely to be trafficked.
Interspersed throughout the consultation were theological reflections as well as local case studies from Anglicans who detailed the church’s involvement in efforts to confront human trafficking. One example was participation in the Windsor-based organization WEFiGHT, which provides direct services to human trafficking survivors such as income support, shelter, clothing, food, trauma counselling, and legal information.
The final day of the consultation saw participants reflecting on how to increase awareness in their areas towards the elimination of human trafficking, as well as efforts to build networks, and advance the issue in the runup to General Synod 2019.
Similar consultations have followed or will take place for the ecclesiastical provinces of Canada, Rupert’s Land, and B.C. and Yukon. The Province of Canada event took place from April 16-18 at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., while dates have not yet been set for the remaining two consultations.
“If we’re going to be effective in [working to eliminate human trafficking], it needs to be engaged in at every level of the church,” Weston said. “So we want the grassroots parish folks to be aware and engaged and praying and taking action as much as folks that are closely affiliated with national initiatives.”
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