The Ontario government on Tuesday (June 1) passed new legislation and made amendments to existing legislation in its Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy.
It coincided with the arrest of 59-year-old St. Thomas resident Eugene Andre Francois on human trafficking charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography.
A female had contacted St. Thomas Police to report she was a trafficking victim for several months as a minor in 2013.
Representing that victim is Kelly Franklin, recognized as this country’s leading expert in anti-human trafficking awareness and certification.
She is the founder of Courage for Freedom, a Canadian-based organization that exists to educate, train and certify front-line and community service providers on proven strategies and prevention tactics that serves vulnerable victims of human trafficking and sexually exploited girls.
Franklin is also the Executive Director of Farmtown Canada, located just east of Mapleton.
We talked at length this week with Franklin about the new legislation which, among other actions, supports more survivors and the people who support them in obtaining restraining orders against traffickers, with specific consideration for Indigenous survivors.
Franklin notes 50 per cent of survivors are Indigenous women.
Her Courage for Freedom organization stresses courage, hope and resilience as survivors travel through the recovery process.
She urges victims to come forward, as was the case with this week’s St. Thomas announcement. And, don’t be ashamed of what has happened.
Critically important is the question, who is buying this victim?
And, as St. Thomas Police suspect, there may be other victims.
Franklin has read the online comments related to the arrest of Francois, in particular questions about why this victim waited before reporting to police about what happened to her as a minor in 2013.
“You can’t understand why it took somebody 15 years to wait to report. But I can tell you we had to set the stage for them to have the capacity to do it.
“Plus, how do we know what it takes for somebody to go through court and whether they have the wherewithal to survive it physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.
“Or, maybe they just have to cut from it and go forward and heal. And then decide at a later date if it’s important.”
Franklin adds, “Somebody in our community who is working together with this believed a survivor and gave her the courage to stand by her story and now they’re going to stand by her.
“So, what I say to the community is this. We need to look back and see where we missed this as a community.
“And, I’m not speaking to someone’s guilt or innocence, but when somebody is found with child pornography and it’s identified as being theirs, that just starts my blood boiling.
“Because where there is smoke, there is fire.
“I would like to say to St. Thomas, wake up, stop thinking it can’t happen to you. And start thinking that we need to stop it from happening to anyone, not just somebody else’s young person. A daughter, niece, nephew, sister or grandchild.
“We have a culture right now that is about clicks, links and likes. So we have to work within the system to teach them to the best of their ability to keep themselves safe.”
“We need to be the civic community that stands up and protects our children and works with police, victim services, Crimestoppers, crime prevention and community engagement.
“And, we work forward to understand that any business in St. Thomas that has access to children and youth needs to ensure that every single person who is volunteering or working for them has a vulnerable sector screening to know whether they’re on the sex offender registry. If they have any crimes in their past that would put flags up about the safety of somebody vulnerable.
“And not just children and youth, but elderly and those with mental health issues or people who might not have complete understanding of their rights.
“We need to do a better job of protecting. I want everybody who owns a business and our Chamber of Commerce to understand why they need a vulnerable sector screening.”
Franklin agreed this St. Thomas incident does have a positive aspect.
“It puts us on alert that there are some things that we need to be doing. And, with the help of all our parliamentarians, our mayor and council, the police, parent associations, our religious organizations and our civic organizations, St. Thomas can amp up in this regard.”
Franklin has a warning for parents to be cognizant of online sites where traffickers are lurking, waiting to begin the grooming process on unsuspecting young girls.
Specifically, a parent working with her recounted an instance where someone tried to approach one of their children on a gaming site.
“And, they’re well versed in this and that’s where it can start. That’s where those conversations can start.
“We have a culture right now that is about clicks, links and likes. So we have to work within the system to teach them to the best of their ability to keep themselves safe.
“They’re kids. And every single girl I’ve worked with says I feel stupid, I should have known.
“No, the adults should have protected you. Shame on us, we need to do a better job.”
Franklin points out 60 per cent of all of Canada’s human trafficking can be linked in some way to activities that occur along the 401 corridor.
In 2019, that led to the launch of #ProjectONRoute, a provincial human trafficking awareness campaign.
On July 30, of that year, World Day against Trafficking in Persons, Ontarians all across the province attended their local ONroute service centres to bring awareness to end human trafficking in Ontario.
That initiative has expanded across the country and is now known as #ProjectMapleLeaf.
Watch for activities this July 30 and more information can be found at https://courageforfreedom.org/solution/projectmapleleaf/
In closing, Franklin has a reminder for all.
“We need to hold one another to account. Boys and girls in Canada are not for sale. Either on screens or in person. They are not little commodities.”
TAKING THE INDIAN OUT OF THE CHILD
The discovery of the remains of 215 children uncovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and the atrocities recounted by survivors of the residential school system is another heart-wrenching chapter in this most sordid period of Canada’s history.
Hearing the promises, the excuses and Dennis Saddleman’s recitation of his poem Monster, prompted us to sift through the City Scope archives to one of our earliest postings exactly nine years ago.
At that time we ventured over to the site of the former Mount Elgin Indian Residential School near Muncey for the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation student commemorative gathering to remember, reconcile and rejoice.
It is imperative at this time to revisit the gathering. Here is that June 23, 2012 posting in its entirety.
The two-day ceremony included the unveiling of a monument to the survivors of residential schools – a sordid chapter in this country’s history that eluded the radar of most Canadians until the creation, in 2008, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, whose mandate is to bring to light the truth about these schools and enlighten the populace.
Opened in 1851 and operated by Wesleyan Methodists in conjunction with the Department of Indian Affairs, Mount Elgin was sold to Christian Indian leaders as an opportunity to train their children to be political leaders, teachers, missionaries and interpreters.
That may well have been the case with some students but Mount Elgin was a not-very-subtle move to assimilate First Nations people.
Wednesday morning, a seven-pillar monument was unveiled bearing the names of more than 1,100 students who attended the school from as many as 18 First Nations communities.
Pictures of Mount Elgin bear a striking resemblance to Alma College here in St. Thomas – a scaled-down version of the landmark built in 1878 that dominated the cityscape until its demolition by neglect in 2008.
The comparison ends there.
The former finishing school for girls is a quantum leap from Mount Elgin, whose deplorable conditions and harsh regime hallmarked a curriculum hell-bent on cultural genocide.
“We want this commemoration to honour the strength and resilience of those who were forced to attend the school here so many years ago,” stressed Joe Miskokomon, Chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
“It’s about turning something that was very negative for so many of us into something we can all be proud of and leave behind for future generations.”
Cree political icon, Elijah Harper, who survived residential schools in Manitoba and went on to become MP for Churchill in northern Manitoba, and today remains a strong advocate for indigenous and human rights, told the large gathering the policy of the government at that time “was to assimilate us . . . to extinguish our people and I can say that because it’s written in black and white if you read the textbooks and if you read some of the debates that have gone on in Parliament.”
(Editor’s note: Elijah Harper passed away less than a year later at the age of 64.)
In essence, the residential schools were designed to take the Indian out of the child.
“But today, we see they have failed,” Harper asserted. “But, there are many of us who need to be healed, to reconcile with what has happened.”
It was Harper, in 1995, who called for a Sacred Assembly to promote Aboriginal justice through spiritual reconciliation and healing between non- and Aboriginal peoples.
And it was the efforts of this Sacred Assembly that led to the federal government declaring June 21 as National Aboriginal Day.
The day was chosen to honour the survivors, not just of Mount Elgin, but of similar schools across Canada.
“We want to make sure that future generations understand and never forget the impact residential schools had on our families and communities,” advised Chief Miskokomon.
“We are now at a point in history when we are ready to turn the page on this legacy and begin the work of true reconciliation so that we can move toward the future.”
We would all do well to celebrate more than the arrival of summer on June 21.
“It’s a celebration of Aboriginal people, not just for our people but for all of the people of Canada as a whole,” reminded Harper.
“To share this land we call Canada, our home. To enjoy the standard of living that Canada enjoys.”
WHAT WE ARE DOING NOW ISN’T WORKING
We’ve profiled Leticia Amanda (Mizon) on several occasions and she took the time to respond to last week’s item on a two-stream justice system.
Here in full is her submission.
“By slowly reallocating money to fix these social issues, we are far better ahead than throwing money at officer wages and adding more foot patrols, money for weapons etc.
“Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre is no place to get better. Like Police Chief Chris Herridge said, it’s where 18 people have gone to die, and if you ask anyone who has been in, the amount of unwell people who need help who get thrown in there do not receive help and get thrown back out is astonishing.
“There is no rehabilitation in EMDC, it’s where you go to make connections and learn how much society can’t help you. Then you are released out into the community and expected to “do better” and “be better” with a criminal record where nobody will hire you.
“And you can’t do better because you don’t have a job or you have restrictions on where you can go and who you can be with and are forced into the street and slammed into survival mode where trusting anyone is non-existent.
“I can’t help but wonder if the correlation to use of force and the body-worn cameras has impacted the decrease of these incidents.
“When we send individuals back into the original environment that their crisis and survival actions were engaged in and ask for something different to happen, that’s where we are faulted.
“Even a small act of defunding can open up a bit of cash flow to get a program started and that is worth a try. We also need the municipality to be thinking about how to get funds to help too.
“We can look to a shelter run in London, where approximately $1.7 million per year is the cost to run it on a 24/7 schedule, with 3 shifts of 2 staff/shift. Where folks can transition from street to home, incarceration to home, and have a space where they are welcomed and supported.
“When we treat people and ensure systems are working best for them, looking and assessing outcomes of programs and how we can make them better, we all win.”
“This is better than reintroducing individuals into the same unsupported environment, where their basic needs are met and they can work on themselves with a community beside them.
“When we take away the need to hustle for your next fix (safe supply), have a safe space where people can lay their head at night (basic needs being met) and a decent amount of income (basic income pilot) can, and will, and has been proven to be better than an officer arresting and rearresting.
“Please look at the recent evidence of the safe supply project in London and how it has proven that this is a step forward https://www.reddit.com/…/results_of_the_safe_drug…/
“Small acts can lead to big change if we can come together to do it. Offering people a way out, an opportunity, a place of safety and security will increase the chances of better, more successful reintegration.
“When we look at the root causes, and the supports in our community, and how we can do better, it paves a clear path to wellness. When we treat people and ensure systems are working best for them, looking and assessing outcomes of programs and how we can make them better, we all win.
“Something needs to give because what we are doing now isn’t working.”
THE READER’S WRITE
In response to our conversation last week with St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge, faithful reader Dave Mathers emailed this observation.
“The police chief and city hall get roasted on a fairly regular basis for the disruptive behaviours in the city’s downtown. BUT, and this is a BIG but, they are playing with one arm tied behind their backs.
“A group hands out needles, reportedly multiple needles at one time, to users right across from city hall and those needles, both new and used, end up on the ground all around the downtown area.
“This forces ‘others’ to have to clean things up.
“The court system is the main reason for the problems as they just practice ‘catch and release’ with the people charged.
“Time to toughen things up?”
And, Lonnie McIntyre simply wrote the following.
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