Human Trafficking Task Force in Alberta releases report, accepts 18 of 19 recommendations

After nearly two years of work, the report created by Alberta’s task force on human trafficking has been publicly released, with 19 calls to action to help prevent the crime and empower survivors.

On Sunday, Premier Jason Kenney announced the province had fully accepted or accepted “in principle” 18 of the calls to action, including creating an office to combat trafficking in persons, legislation updates and harmonization, and enhanced access to services for victims.

“There is no more crime more repugnant in our society than the scurge of human trafficking,” Kenney said. “This modern form of slavery traps countless people and subjects them to a life of victimhood, exploitation, and tragedy.”

“This horrific practice continues almost unabated, not just in far-flung corners of the world but right here in Canada, right here in Alberta,” he added.

In May 2020, the province announced the task force, headed by anti-human trafficking advocate and Canadian country star Paul Brandt, to guide Alberta’s work to prevent human trafficking.

That came on the heels of the province passing the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Actwhich extends the definition of sexual exploitation, allows survivors to sue traffickers while making it easier for survivors to get protection orders.

According to the province, the task force engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors to inform their recommendations to the government. Their final report was submitted to the province in August 2021.

The task force noted that between January and May 2020, the province’s Integrated Child Exploitation took on 63 per cent more files compared to the same time frame in 2019 and that nationally, reports of human trafficking in 2019 increased by 44 per cent from the previous year .

In 2019, police services reported 511 human trafficking incidents in Canada, including 31 in Alberta.

Tyler Shandro, justice minister, said human trafficking represents one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and the second-largest source of criminal income in the world.

“Despite being so widespread, despite it being so lucrative, human trafficking is a well-hidden crime,” Shandro said.

Shandro added that the recommendations from the human trafficking task force would allow for justice to be served, give law enforcement more tools to combat the crime, and better empower survivors.

Work is underway to develop the new Office for Combatting Human Trafficking, Shandro said, with further details, including its scope, expected to be released later this year.

When asked which of the recommendations from the task force the province did not accept, Shandro said the recommendation was that the province move to an opt-out model for organ donations to ensure Alberta is not a jurisdiction that is a destination for organ trafficking.

“This is something that we have looked at in the past,” Shandro said, adding that the province has a low organ donation per million rate.

“Is it a question of us not having a big enough donor pool, or is it internal processes that actually could allow us to access those who have opted in,” he added.

Other recommendations include creating a center of excellence in Alberta to better research and track data of human trafficking incidents, creating better training programs and protocols for Albertans and those who assist victims, and that there are Indigenous-led health and wellness specific prevention initiatives and support services.

“I decided to share my story as an Indigenous survivor of sexual exploitation with the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force to reach other survivors,” said April Eve Wiberg, a Treaty 8 Mikisew Cree First Nation member and Indigenous sexual exploitation survivor and advocate.

“I want people to know they don’t have to suffer alone, and to encourage them to step out of the shadows, shine a light on the very real and serious threat of exploitation and trafficking, and begin their healing journeys.”

Rebecca Schulz, children’s services minister, said 90 to 95 per cent of human trafficking incidents now begin online.

“Given what we are seeing, it (human trafficking) doesn’t look like it did before,” Schulz said. “We need new ways to tackle this horrific crime.”

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