During a sunny, cold noon-hour ceremony Feb. 22, 2023, members of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada (CWL) raised a flag at Saskatoon City Hall as part of also raising awareness about human trafficking. Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemeon provided the opening prayer during the short program.
Saskatoon city council had earlier declared Feb. 22 as “Human Trafficking Awareness Day” in the commnity and approved the flag-raising ceremony, prompted by a request from the CWL Council at Saint Anne Parish in Saskatoon to highlight the scourge of modern day slavery that exists both in local communities and around the world, including the sexual exploitation of women and vulnerable youth.
Co-chairs of Saint Anne CWL’s Human Trafficking Awareness Project – Anne Ashcroft and Donna Aldous – were among the speakers during the outdoor program, with Ashcroft serving as M.C. and Aldous offering closing remarks.
“Thank you for coming out this afternoon to bring awareness to this horrific social injustice,” said Ashcroft. “It is our belief that awareness of this terrible crime will lead to action. It is our hope that this action will be to stop human trafficking, or at least to improve the lives of people affected by this horrible crime.”
“The goal is for every enslaved person to return to being a free agent of his or her own life,” stated an information pamphlet distributed by CWL members to those gathered in Saskatoon City Square outside city hall, with the pamphlets also carrying blue lapel ribbons to wear in honour and memory of survivors and victims of human trafficking.
“The blue ribbon represents the sadness of those who are trafficked while reminding us of the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell human beings,” explained Ashcroft, urging those present to share pamphlets and information about modern forms of slavery with others.
“Even here in Saskatoon we have young women and girls, young men and boys who are at risk of being trafficked,” she said, sharing examples of heart-breaking situations of trafficking and exploitation. “As a concerned mother and grandmother, I recognize that action needs to be taken, sooner rather than later. Awareness is the first step.”
Before the flag was raised to officially mark the awareness day, CWL member Pamela Yaremko led singing of the national anthem, and Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon offered a prayer to open a short program of guest speakers.
“These are difficult issues and we must confront them,” said Bishop Hagemoen, thanking CWL members and the many other Christian and not-for-profit, community-based organizations who are working to raise awareness and provide help to victims and survivors of modern forms of slavery.
In his prayer, Hagemoen asked God to protect victims and restore their dignity and freedom. “We beseech You to release them from their chains. Grant them protection and safety. Enable them to find their voice in life, with the help of others: all who care.”
He continued: “Show us how we might end exploitation by addressing its causes. May we be brave and bold in facing these causes, whatever and wherever they may be… Help us to reach out to support victims and survivors of human trafficking. Make us instruments of your Spirit for their liberation.”
Ashley Peter, Program Coordinator of Hope Restored Canada’s Saskatoon house, described how the eight-bed safe house – the only one of its kind in Western Canada — provides help to survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
“I am a Cree Métis woman from northern Saskatchewan, and from the time I was conceived, from the time my daughters and nieces were conceived, we had a statistic placed on our heads,” Peter said. “As an Indigenous woman, I know my sisters make up four per cent of Canada’s population and we are 20 times more likely to be murdered and to go missing; we are 40 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence; and we are ten times more likely to commit suicide than any other race in Canada.”
She stressed that human trafficking and sexual exploitation “is not an Indigenous issue; it is a people issue – and something that happens right here in Saskatoon, in every part of the city.”
Peter noted that the estimated annual profit from a single trafficked person is around $300,000 a year – and that most traffickers have multiple victims.
“At Hope Restored, our vision is to transform and support the lives of sexually exploited and trafficked individuals and youth in Saskatchewan,” she said. “We are also passionate about providing awareness and education to the community,” she said.
“As an agency we see first-hand the devastation this issue causes in people’s lives.”
Since November 2019, Hope Restored’s program has been able to support “50-plus people” through the safe house as well as through day programming and outreach, both for those escaping enslavement, and for those still being exploited.
Peter thanked the CWL for raising awareness and for their projects to provide curated backpacks of necessities that “make a huge difference when an individual is fleeing for their life with nothing but the clothes on their back.”
City Councillor Randy Donauer brought greetings from Mayor Charlie Clark and Saskatoon City Council, officially declaring Feb. 22 as “Human Trafficking Awareness Day” in Saskatoon.
“Our goal today is to bring awareness to human trafficking and to condemn this. It is a shame that in a city like Saskatoon in the nation of Canada that we’re still dealing with this, but it is something that many people are completely unaware of, something which is happening every day in our community,” Donauer said.
Deputy Police Chief Mitch Yuzdepski spoke on behalf of Saskatoon Police Service, confirming statistics that show Saskatchewan had the fifth highest rate of human trafficking in the country in 2020, and that 93 per cent of human trafficking victims in Canada are Canadian.
“I think for a lot of the public, (there is a perception that) this is an international problem, and it is – but it is also a local problem, a Canadian problem,” said Yuzdepski. He thanked the provincial government, which has increased capacity to investigate human trafficking in Saskatchewan, through a dedicated response team.
“We know that there are many victims in this thriving industry, many survivors,” he said, giving a “shout out” of thanks to community partners such as Hope Restored Canada and Egadz , who work with victims and survivors in the community, as well as commending the Saint Anne CWL council for drawing attention to the issue.
After members of the council raised the “Stop Human Trafficking” flag, CWL member Pamela Yaremko offered a prayer asking for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking victims and survivors. The saint is a “shining ray of hope and an inspirational demonstration of how a victim can recover from her trauma and be whole again,” said Yaremko.
CWL member Donna Aldous concluded the program with a call to action, urging those present to continue to raise awareanss and find ways to end human trafficking. “Knowing about this will create passion and the will to do something about it… we have to, we absolutely have to.”
The Canadian Centre to end Human Trafficking – LINK
Public Safety Canada – LINK
Government of Saskatchewan Protection from Human Trafficking Act – LINK
“Working Towards Freedom” study guide– LINK (The diocese of Saskatoon has joined with the dioceses of Victoria and Vancouver to produce a new resource about the scourge of human trafficking: rcdos.ca/human-trafficking)