Human trafficking on the Canadian Prairies

Hello Flatlanders,

Firstly, a sincere thank you to everyone who contributed to the campaign to raise $500 to hire a freelancer to do our first investigation. In fact, that goal was exceeded and $638 was raised. Hitting this goal is important for the sustainability of The Flatlander because it shows potential funders and sponsors that The Flatlander readers are dedicated.

I truly appreciate everyone who donated, whether it was $3 or $150.

More about that later in this email.

Human trafficking on the Prairies

Two words caught my ear when listening to the Saskatchewan throne speech in October: human trafficking.

This got the wheels turning in my head. Is human trafficking a big enough problem in Saskatchewan that it needs to be mentioned in the throne speech? (Specifically, it was announced the government is setting up a Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team to target criminals who traffic drugs, weapons and people).

And is this a problem in Manitoba too?

I looked into it and the answer is yes, it is indeed a problem.

Whenever I think of human trafficking I think of Taken, a movie, starring Liam Neeson, who has to save his teenage daughter after she is violently kidnapped, drugged and sold as a sex slave on the international market.

This isn’t how human trafficking works. Those involved in trafficking are very manipulative and prey on people’s socio-economic vulnerabilities. The homeless, runaways, people with mental and physical disabilities and/or people of colour are more likely to be trafficked.

On the Prairies, it is often Indigenous women who are victim to human trafficking after being manipulated into a situation where they feel like they have no power to leave.

A third of victims are trafficked by someone who is or was a romantic partner.

Public Safety Canada made a short but powerful video about what human trafficking looks like in Canada, which is worth a watch.

Trafficking stats from Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan had 36 reported incidents of sex trafficking, between 2009 and 2019. Many victims of trafficking don’t report to police.

The Manitoba government estimates that hundreds of children and adults are forced to work in the sex trade on the streets of Winnipeg, making money for the pimps who are exploiting them. The government also reports there is an underground sex trade taking place in private homes and drug houses across Manitoba. Children as young as nine are trafficked into the sex trade.

Further reading on sex trafficking on the Prairies

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix did a two-part series this summer:
Exploited: How human trafficking is taking root in Saskatchewan, Part 1
Exploited: Sask. advocates say sex trafficking legislation misses the mark, Part 2

Part 1 includes the story of Beatrice Wallace, who after being trafficked herself, now works with women who have either been exploited or are in danger of being trafficked.

Part 2 is a critique of Saskatchewan’s Protection From Human Trafficking Act, which was passed in May. It allows victims to sue their traffickers and seek compensation from them. The act also makes it easier for police to search homes and vehicles where those being trafficked may be held. Critics of the act say the government should have provided more of the services victims asked for after public consultation.

If you’re interested in a deep dive of sex trafficking in Manitoba, you can read the Ph.D. thesis of Staff Sgt. Bob Christmas from the Winnipeg Police on that very topic, which was published in 2017. It includes excerpts of interviews he did across Manitoba with police, as well as various experts, government leaders and sex trafficking survivors.

In 2019, Manitoba put out a report called Collaboration and Best Practices to End Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking in Manitoba to help inform Tracia’s Trust, which is the province’s sexual exploitation strategy.

Labour trafficking is also a problem

Labour trafficking is a tougher nut to crack, but it definitely exists. The most at risk are migrant workers, like those that come to Manitoba and Saskatchewan as temporary farm workers. Because of the language barrier, and the fact these workers are living in isolated rural areas, they can be at risk of being exploited. And as as we saw during the pandemic, particularly in Ontario, migrant farm workers can live in cramped housing conditions.

Last week, the federal government released a report  ‘What We Heard’, summarizing feedback from consultations on employer-provided accommodations in the agriculture sector to help guide improvements to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Accommodations aside, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have laws to protect temporary foreign workers, which makes it illegal for an employer to take a worker’s passport or work permit, or threaten deportation, but if and how those rules are enforced will take some more research on my part for a future story.

Last week’s top five stories from Saskatchewan 

Officials quiet about sudden departures from SHA
Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone resigned from his position effective immediately. Before him, Dr. Janet Tootoosis quit the SHA board, and, in October, Suann Laurent, the chief operating officer, retired. These vacancies have opposition and reporters asking what’s with all the sudden high-level resignations.

Pandemic worsening already dire northern suicide crisis, Lac La Ronge councillor says
Coun. Devin Bernatchez, said the pandemic has increased suicide and drug overdose rates in his community of Sucker River Reserve. In the last month, two people in the community of 400 people committed suicide.

Up to $1M approved by Saskatchewan government to battle mountain pine beetle threat
The Saskatchewan government wants to keep the pine beetle out of the province that would threaten the province’s northern pine forests. Pine beetles have already destroyed 55 per cent of salable pine in British Columbia and have moved east across Alberta.

Deportation decision delayed in Humboldt Broncos case: ‘Not getting on a plane any time soon’
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, who was found guilty of causing the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, will have to wait until the end of December to find out if he can stay in the country after the Canada Border Services Agency pushed off releasing their recommendation on the matter.

The last gasp of the anti-carbon taxers
An article from Maclean’s about Scott Moe, Jason Kenney and the debate to balance climate and energy policies.

Last week’s top five stories from Manitoba

University of Manitoba strike ends, students return to class Tuesday
It’s business as usual again for the U of M after professors and librarians return from a five-week long strike. A tentative deal between the union and the university was reached Sunday.

Blue Bombers, Tiger-Cats find roles reversed ahead of Grey Cup rematch from 2019
Hamilton and Winnipeg will face off for the Grey Cup this Sunday after the Bombers beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders last weekend.

State of Disaster: Doctors, nurses call for action to clear Manitoba’s health backlog
The president of Doctors Manitoba says the provincial health care system is near the brink of collapse after the medical procedure backlog has grown from 136,000, about 10% of Manitoba’s population, to more than 152,000.

Health of Manitoba’s First Nations worse than others in the province, study says
A recent study looking at the health of Manitobans says most of the province’s population is living longer, unless you’re an Indigenous woman, then it’s decreasing. The life expectancy for First Nations men is about the same.

Canadian farmers harvest record potato crop in 2021
Manitoba farmers might have had a bad year for grain production because of drought conditions, but it was a great year for potatoes. In fact, the province was the third highest producer of the vegetable in Canada this fall.

Flatlander readers voted on both Twitter and Facebook and the first investigation will focus on a story that intersects the environment and a social/systematic issue. I will be connecting with the freelance writer later this week to set up work on an important story that hasn’t received much attention in Canada. More on that soon.

And thanks again to those who donated to the campaign. Hitting that $500 goal goes a long way in proving that The Flatlander can grow into a financially-sustainable business as eight per cent of readers donated. The metric that needed to be reached was between five to 10 per cent.

The next goal for The Flatlander is to increase its email subscriber base to 1,000 and build out the website. What should help is the fact that I was selected to take The Flatlander through the Google News Initiative Startups Bootcamp in the New Year. And over the holidays, I’m working my way through the Indiegraf Growth Program, so more exciting announcements for The Flatlander are on the way.

As always, if you found this newsletter interesting, please forward it to anyone else you think might appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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