Like many, I was horrified when the CBC reported that Christy Stark, a University of Minnesota researcher, found that First Nations women are being trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Stark told CBC that First Nations women are being taken from urban and rural areas of Manitoba and Ontario and are sold into slavery, sent by ship from Thunder Bay to Duluth, Minnesota. As the MP for Churchill and the Status of Women Critic for the Official Opposition, I must call upon the federal government to react effectively to these allegations of terrible violence -- violence that by all accounts is not a new phenomenon.
The government's agenda toward women has been to deny the extreme violence and poverty they face, and pay lip service to advancing gender equity. Instead of meaningful action, the only thing Mr. Harper's government did when the story broke was to quietly place a request for research proposals on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The request is myopically focused on seeking evidence that would prove that family members are complicit in selling women to gang members, instead of looking to comprehensively research the nature and scale of the problem. This downloads blame onto families -- a prescriptive method to address horrors the Harper government has apparently ignored for its seven years in power.
First Nations activists and communities immediately criticized the government's request as an example of victim blaming. They say it fails to question what roles the Federal and Provincial police are playing. It doesn't query the possible correlation between sex trafficking and the 600+ missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. It is clear to me that the Conservatives are looking to prove a forgone conclusion in order to construct a spurious narrative around this violence.
Sandra Diaz, a member of the Canadian Women's Foundation's National Taskforce on Sex Trafficking, told the press on August 21st "There's an enormous need for more research. We don't have data. It doesn't exist in a way that is comprehensive and deep."
We have heard from Conservatives that drug addiction is the cause of trafficking. Joy Smith MP tabled a private member's bill about human trafficking earlier this year. While I supported Ms. Smith's bill because it strengthened legislation to address human trafficking, little has been done to end the trafficking of First Nation, Metis and Inuit women in Canada.
The conditions that afflict Indigenous women in Canada cannot be reduced to drug use. Systemically enforced poverty, the repercussions of colonization, chronic underfunding of schools and lack of housing make First Nations communities vulnerable to addiction and subsequent violence.
Communities in my riding of Northern Manitoba struggle with gangs, but what is reinforcing their victimization by organized crime is the lack of other opportunities. The Harper government is blaming illegal drugs and drug-addicted family members, while failing to address the underlying circumstances that enable drug addiction in the first place.
Taking strong measures to end poverty, to create educational opportunities and to end housing shortages on First Nations would go a long way, and no member of Harper's Government, seem seriously committed to these tasks.
Indigenous women do need research on this topic, but they also need action. Perhaps the saddest aspect of Stark's revelations is that these horrors are not recent. Stark's research suggests that sex trafficking of First Nations women, girls and even babies has been going on for generations in Canada. Over the past few weeks, adult women have come forth to testify that they were trafficked in this manner as young girls. Before spinning stories that assign blame to families and drugs, we should ask why we have so little information, why we are not taking action to address the systemic causes of violence and why we regard an old problem as though it were new.