The Anglican Church of Canada’s work on human trafficking will likely focus on the issue as it affects victimized Indigenous people, Ryan Weston, the church’s lead animator of public witness for social and ecological justice, told Council of General Synod (CoGS) November 11.
In a presentation to the council, Weston related the work the national church had been undertaking to fight human trafficking since CoGS voted last June to endorse an anti-human trafficking resolution passed by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2012.
A reference group, formed to help identify what the church’s next steps should be, met and concluded that the problem of human trafficking is actually too vast for the church to tackle without focusing its efforts in key areas. (One U.S.-based advocacy group, Weston said, recently identified 25 different forms of human trafficking.)
“There was a recognition, I think, that we as a church cannot actively address every form of human trafficking…so we thought together [about] where are we best positioned and most engaged currently,” he said.
It was decided that the church should focus on fighting human trafficking in its connection with missing and murdered Indigenous “women and girls, and men and boys,” Weston said. The anti-human trafficking ministry, he said, will continue trying to raise awareness of this problem while also supporting Indigenous communities that are struggling with it, particularly as work proceeds in the ongoing National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls launched by the federal government in September 2016.
The church will also focus on the issue of sexual exploitation, which is related, he said, since an estimated 50% of the women and girls being trafficked for sex in Canada are Indigenous. (The most common age at which females become involved in sex trafficking in Canada, he said, is 14.)
A third focus of the work, Weston said, will be issues around the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows Canadian employers to hire foreigners for short-term work.
According to a federal government fact sheet, more than 192,000 temporary foreign workers came to Canada in 2011.
The reference group also “identified some key partners and networks to connect with and collaborate with going forward,” Weston said, and will now focus on working out the specific steps the church ought to take next. Among the possibilities, he said, are awareness-raising events to be held in each of the church’s four provinces, with possible participation by members of the Anglican Communion office. Michael Bird, bishop of Niagara, has already offered to host such an event in his diocese, Weston added.
In a response to Weston’s presentation, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said human trafficking was a “crime against humanity” that Anglicans are called upon to resist by their baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being. And human trafficking in Canada, he said, is “intertwined” with the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Likewise, Hiltz said, he wanted members of the church to see its commitment to fight human trafficking as an equally long-term priority to support ministry to Indigenous people.
“Our commitment to Indigenous ministries is for the long haul, as dear [former primate] Michael Peers said…But what I’m sensing is that this crime against humanity, human trafficking, is also a call on our church for the long haul,” he said.
“I really hope that as a church we will be awakened to the evil that it is, and the horrible slavery into which it sucks people and destroys people, and that as a gospel people, we’ll stand up and, by word and action, be people who help others become liberated.”