Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 28, 2008
Calgary council raises awareness of human trafficking
After one small step, the issue 'took on a life of its own'
- photo supplied
Sr. Gisele Labonte convinced Jerry O'Connor and the knights of Father Albert Newman Council to become involved in the issue of human trafficking.
By GLEN ARGAN
Jerry O'Connor didn't know what he was getting into when he agreed to help find a location to stage a travelling show on human trafficking in November 2006.
But after Sister Gisele Labonte got him involved with the issue, he couldn't let go.
"From there, it took on a life of its own," said O'Connor, past grand knight of Father Albert Newman Council 8470.
The council took on the issue of human trafficking by presenting human trafficking workshops with the RCMP, doing a presentation for St. Patrick's Parish and sponsoring a resolution passed at last year's Knights of Columbus convention pledging the Knights to raise awareness on the issue.
"I hope the Knights will continue to be active and be seen to be active," O'Connor said in an interview. "As a small group, we're not going to change society, but we can create awareness."
O'Connor's own awareness has deepened to the point where he now realizes that human trafficking reaches "right into our own communities, our own backyard."
He recalls a woman coming up to him in the neighbourhood pub in the Shawnessy area to tell him how her friend had been a victim of human trafficking. He's also written letters to MPs and MLAs.
"Initially, when I started this, all I wanted to do was to help Sister Gisele at St. Patrick's."
RCMP sought help
Sister Gisele Labonte, a Filles de Jesus, traces her own involvement back two years to when she attended a meeting on the issue put on by the Canadian Religious Conference.
"Two members of the RCMP spoke to us about human trafficking," she said. "I was shocked by the information they gave us and touched by their humility as they begged us to help them in the difficult work of prosecuting perpetrators and caring for victims."
Human trafficking is a $10-billion-a-year global form of slavery that recruits and transports people for the purpose of exploiting their labour or services, Labonte said in an article she wrote for her religious congregation. Typically, it involves transporting girls and young women for prostitution.
"I'm trying to get men involved in this issue," she told the WCR. "Men were given physical strength to protect women and children."
As well, men are most responsible for trafficking and prostitution because it is they who are the pimps and johns who support the industry, she said.
Nevertheless, she is finding it an uphill battle. "People are very reluctant to get involved in such an issue."
She was disappointed with the Calgary turnout for the 2006 play, Lost in Traffic. Only 100 of the 500 tickets were sold.
Now she and others are trying to stop a push to have brothels legalized for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"No woman chooses that profession. No young girl dreams of becoming a prostitute."
Like Sister Gisele, O'Connor will not give up. His initial involvement may have been just to help a friend who needed a helping hand. Now he's engaged.
"I'm passionate and I don't mind taking something on."