10/01/2013 08:05 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Hey NDP, Canada Is Doing Plenty to Combat Human Trafficking

Earlier this month, NDP MP Niki Ashton, in a post criticizing the Canadian government for its apparent lack of action on human trafficking, revealed she was shocked to learn over the summer that First Nations women were being trafficked for sex.

I am hardly surprised that Ms. Ashton is oblivious to the significant work that Canada's government has done to combat human trafficking as she admitted her lack of awareness of the sex trafficking of Aboriginal women and children until just two months ago.

Our government has been actively committed to combating human trafficking at all levels and working with partners and stakeholders across Canada. We view human trafficking as modern day slavery -- an egregious abuse of basic human rights.

The gaping hole in Ms. Ashton's statement is the absence of any acknowledgement of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking that Canada developed and launched on June 6, 2012. The National Action Plan was the result of extensive consultations across Canada with law enforcement, NGOs, survivors and First Nations communities. In fact, had Ms. Ashton read the National Action Plan, she would be aware that it is not only First Nations women that are trafficked, but First Nations men as well.

Most alarming is Ms. Ashton's outright revision of history in her statement. She writes "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."

Ms. Ashton is completely wrong. The federal government's tender for research into trends and issues around trafficking of aboriginal women was launched on August 16, 2013, posted on Public Works on August 17, 2013.

CBC's news report of Aboriginal women being trafficked to Minnesota from Thunder Bay was not reported until August 21, 2013. Ms. Ashton even used a quote from an Ottawa Citizen story on the federal research project that was published two days before CBC's news report was broadcast.

The tender for research follows an acknowledgement in the 2012 National Action Plan of "many gaps in our knowledge about how human trafficking plays out in ... in Aboriginal communities."

The specific focus of the government's recent tender for research within First Nation communities is threefold: it seeks to establish the extent of trafficking of family members, link between human trafficking and domestic violence, and the role of gangs and criminal organizations. Understanding the trends and issues around sex trafficking in First Nations communities is critical to helping the government of Canada and stakeholders understand how to best focus preventative measures.

Trafficking of family members in First Nations communities is not an unfamiliar narrative. Michèle Audette, president of the Ottawa-based Native Women's Association of Canada, recounts situations where "because of their addiction to drugs and drinking, every two weeks they were trafficking their own children...It's a small number, but it's there. Because of that, we cannot stay quiet or deny this reality doesn't exist in our First Nations communities."

Since Ms. Ashton has primarily accused the Canada's government of creating a false narrative around the issue, instead of tackling the problem itself and claims "no member of Harper's Government, seem seriously committed to these tasks," I especially want to take this opportunity to share some of the concrete steps our government has taken to specifically combat sex trafficking of First Nations men, women and children as well as current initiatives.

Over the past few years we have:

  • Collaborated with the RCMP to deliver training on human trafficking to officials in law enforcement, the justice system, and border and immigration services with relation to the vulnerability of Aboriginal.

  • Supported health promotion programs that target vulnerable children and their families to produce positive health outcomes including Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities, Community Action Program for Children, and the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.
  • Provided funding for the National Police Support Centre for Missing Persons and the National Tip website for Missing Persons to ensure that law enforcement and the justice system meet the needs of Aboriginal women.
  • Rolled-out a mass distribution of the "I'm Not for Sale" toolkits to all First Nations territories, Inuit communities and Métis settlements.
  • Developed and launched a youth focused "I'm Not for Sale" toolkit on human trafficking.
  • Provided $100,000, through Status of Women Canada, to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs which was used to develop the Stand Strong Initiative. This yearlong initiative by the AMC comprised of a two day initial forum on human trafficking, the establishment of AMC's Prevent Human Trafficking Working Group (which produced a First Nation's specific anti-trafficking strategy and educational resources), and a province wide workshop campaign in First Nation communities.

As part of Canada's 2012 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, our government is currently undertaking and committed to:

  • Increasing awareness among Aboriginal men, women, boys and girls in regards to trafficking.
  • Providing information on the circumstances that result in the trafficking of Aboriginal women and youth.
  • Emphasizing the vulnerability of Aboriginal populations to human trafficking in training workshops for criminal justice officials throughout Canada.
  • Hosting a Knowledge Exchange Forum on Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Exploitation of Aboriginal Peoples. A literature review will be conducted, to form the basis of a policy research paper that explores Aboriginal youth sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking in persons and its relation to the broader legal and policy context.
  • Conducting a research project in which current or previous male and female Aboriginal youth sex trade workers will be interviewed in the cities of Vancouver and Winnipeg.

These are only a few of the many Action Items our government committed to taking in the 2012 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. The full Plan a can be read online at Public Safety Canada website.

There is still much to be done to end sex trafficking of vulnerable populations in Canada. Our government will continue to investigate the roots of human trafficking and collaborate with First Nations communities so that our anti-trafficking efforts are targeted and effective. It is the responsible approach to combatting such a horrific abuse of human rights.