Alberta’s United Conservative government is moving ahead with calls to action from a task force on human trafficking, including establishing an office to combat the practice.
Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference in Calgary on Sunday where the Human Trafficking Task Force’s report was released that all Albertans owe a debt of gratitude to the panel, which heard stories from victims and survivors and was chaired by country music star Paul Brandt.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro told the news conference that an office for combatting human trafficking would provide support and access to services for victims and survivors.
Shandro noted it would need to form a strong partnership with the Indigenous community, and that an “Indigenous-specific response would need to be incorporated in every aspect of the office’s operations, support, training, education as well as outreach.”
Brandt was out of the country on vacation with his family, and also preparing for upcoming performances, but a statement from him was read at the news conference.
He said human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada, and everyone needs to take personal responsibility.
“Combatting human trafficking requires constant vigilance and co-operation across ideological and political lines,” Brandt said in his statement, which was read at the news conference by fellow task force member Heather Forsyth.
“The work to attain a universal and co-ordinated approach is unprecedented nationally and sets the bar for the rest of Canada.”
The task force was appointed in May 2020 with the job of providing guidance and recommendations on how to best implement the government’s action plan to fight human trafficking.
The government says in a news release the panel engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking. It says the practice includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking, and trafficking in human organs or tissues.
Shandro said calls to action from the panel that involve his department include reviewing the effectiveness of the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, as well as reviewing laws and policies related to body-rub parlours.
He said it also calls for ensuring prosecutors follow human trafficking cases from beginning to end, and making sure expert witnesses are available for human trafficking trials.
A training module is also being developed for victim service units and other organizations, he said, and a publicly accessible version will be available later this year.
April Eve Wiberg, an Indigenous sexual exploitation survivor and advocate who spoke at the news conference, said the issue can be solved only if it’s known.
She said she’s only seen part of the panel’s report, but was overcome with gratitude.
“Because I really truly feel we were heard,” she said. “We were finally heard and believed.”