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Trudeau government pulls funding for human trafficking victims

Nine agencies across Canada that provide services for trafficked and exploited women and girls have been told there is no more money to support their programs.
Erin Perse London, UK

Canadian women's organizations working to support women and girls who have been sexually exploited by men say that Justin Trudeau's liberal government will not renew federal funding. Programs will close as a result.

This clearly signals that the prime minister—a self-identifying feminist—considers female victims of male violence and exploitation unworthy of help. He is content to throw these hidden victims to the wolves.

Executive director Megan Walker said the London Abused Women's Centre (LAWC) will have to close its anti-sex-trafficking program due to lack of funding. Over a five year period, it served over 3,000 women and girls who were trafficked, prostituted and placed at risk of sexual exploitation. That meant over 3,000 women and girls were treated like human beings with basic needs which any civilised society must meet.

The instant-access drop-in service is a predictable casualty of a government reallocating spending towards the most visible aspects of the pandemic. Vulnerable women and girls, whose humanity is barely recognized outside times of international emergency, will no longer be able to visit the centre when in need of clothing, warmth and support. They will no longer be able to turn to staff for help with access to health services and education.

In addition, the program will be forced to stop raising awareness via talks in schools, and teaching students about the grooming tactics of traffickers, thus helping girls to avoid predators.

Sex trafficking does not cease to be a national scandal because we are in the midst of a pandemic. Ms. Walker's agency has been contacted by numerous parents whose daughters were groomed online by male sexual predators. These men recorded the girls to make pedophilic internet pornography from which they could profit. Such violations of girls' boundaries make them more likely to be drawn into prostitution and risky sexual behaviour in the future.

As more and more children are given access to online content and programs due to remote learning and staying indoors, the needs to prevent this kind of grooming is more important, not less.

The previous Conservative government provided the initial funding for the anti-trafficking program—the Measures to Address Prostitution Initiative (MAPI) fund—and it was due to run out in March 2020. When it comes to male violence against women, Trudeau's Liberal federal government has broken trust with the women and girls the program served. This will not be forgotten.

Rachel Rappaport, speaking for the Justice Minister, and Marie-Pier Baril, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Women and Gender Equality, issued a joint statement. It stated that the federal government remains committed to its national strategy on human trafficking. In September 2019, it announced $75-million investment in the strategy.

However, nine agencies across Canada providing services for trafficked and exploited women and girls have been told there is no more money to support their programs and likely won't be for several months.

All of this begs the question as to why the federal funding has been pulled at such a critical time. The investment is there, but it has been decided that an effective, heavily-used, relatively inexpensive project will not continue to run. Given that rates of domestic violence against women have increased during shelter-at-home measures, thus placing more women at risk of falling prey to traffickers, the decision seems even more unjust.

Megan Walker said "The self-proclaimed 'feminist' Prime Minister of Canada has decided that notwithstanding his government's commitment to make trafficking in Canada a priority issue to address, another year of consultation is required. This would be the third Canada-wide consultation in three years."

"If this government truly cares about the lives of women and girls, particularly those most harmed, the government could immediately restore the $1.5 million per year in total (or $166,000 per agency) needed for all nine agencies to re-open. Nine agencies supporting trafficked and women and girls at a cost of only $1.5 million yearly is a bargain. To the government, it's spare change that can either be spent on saving the lives of women and girls, or consultation. Seems like a no brainer to most Canadians."

The statement says "we are working across government to try and find solutions to enable them to continue their work." This writer, and others, will be watching closely to see whether—and how swiftly—they make good on their word.

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