OTTAWA, Ont. — A group fighting against the crime of human trafficking has teamed up with the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada (OBAC) to launch an awareness campaign for truck drivers.
The new TruckSTOP campaign, lead by Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans (PACT-Ottawa), is designed to provide truck drivers with information on signs they can look for to identify situations where human trafficking could be taking place.
PACT’s Kim Howson, coordinator of the TruckSTOP campaign, says many might be surprised to learn that human trafficking is a serious problem in Canada, with men, women and children – Canadian citizens, permanent residents, new immigrants and refugees – being bought and sold every day and usually forced into unpaid labour or work in the sex trade.
“People are quite shocked to learn that it is still happening, especially that it’s Canadians and permanent residents here who are being exploited for others’ gain,” Howson told Truck News during the campaign’s launch at Truck World Apr. 21. “Oftentimes when we think about human trafficking, we think it’s something that’s happening overseas or in underdeveloped countries, but no, it’s happening right here in our country.”
Howson says truck drivers are in a unique position to notice human trafficking activity.
“Transportation is a key element of human trafficking. Traffickers move their victims frequently, to isolate them and to avoid detection. They travel the same roads and highways that truck drivers do,” Howson says. “PACT-Ottawa believes that truck drivers are in a good position to help stop human trafficking and we’re giving them the tools to join the fight.”
PACT has teamed up with OBAC to help distribute materials, but also make connections in the industry. “Oftentimes, people are going, ‘Well, PACT Ottawa, who are you?’ It’s been really great to team up with someone who already advocates for driver’s rights and is on their side and is also very passionate about this issue and wants to have us build a strategic partnership to combat the issue,” Howson said.
“Truck drivers can make a valuable contribution to combatting human trafficking,” says OBAC executive director Joanne Ritchie. “We’re proud to support the TruckSTOP Campaign and be part of the solution to a devastating problem.
“(Truckers) are surprised sometimes that this really is going on this day and age,” Ritchie says. “Once they get over the shock and realize that there is something they can do to perhaps in some small way make a difference, they are very encouraged that they will be able to make a difference.”
The campaign team spent much of late April distributing information and free training materials to truck stops across Ontario. The main component of the materials is an audio CD which includes a 15-minute documentary on human trafficking in Canada called “Watch for the Signs,” as well as an hour-long radio play called “The Walk,” an adaptation of a stage play about trafficked women and girls. The CD also holds a wallet-size card with information on signs of human trafficking activity to watch for, and contact information if something suspicious is spotted.
Howson says PACT’s TruckSTOP Campaign was inspired by the success of a similar American campaign run by Truckers Against Trafficking. “A truck driver noticed suspicious activity at a truck stop and called 911,” Howson says. “His tip led to the rescue of two underage girls who had been kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, along with seven other individuals. That call led to the arrest and conviction of 31 traffickers, and it broke up a trafficking ring that was operating across 13 states. One tip made a huge impact in combating human trafficking.”
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