Human trafficking’s Canadian connection

The Joy Smith Foundation's first public campaign shows that the practice is closer to home than many might think.

Ahead of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Sunday, Public has created a new campaign for the Joy Smith Foundation showing that sex trafficking is more pervasive and closer to home than most Canadians believe.

The video shows an array of faceless men walking down a dreary hallway, while the names of different countries flash on the screen. When one of them gets to the door of a room, finding a young girl inside, it’s revealed the scene is taking place in Canada, which is also where the victim is from.

The video will be supported by a pre-roll buy focused primarily on Facebook, encouraging Canadians to use the #ShesNotForSale hashtag to bring attention to the issue and drive donations to the Joy Smith Foundation. Public is also leading a media outreach effort, featuring editorials from victims of sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence, as well as parents of victims, to reach both teenagers and parents across Canada.

Phil Haid, CEO of Public, says the insight behind the video comes from the fact that most Canadians don’t know human trafficking is something that happens in Canada. Those that do tend to think of the victims as people from other countries who have been transported across international borders. But, as the video points out, 93% of sex trafficking victims in Canada are Canadian.

“We really wanted to drive home that stat and awaken people to the fact that this is happening right under our nose in communities all over the country,” Haid says. “It can also happen to all kinds of women. People might assume its young women in precarious situations or coming from lower incomes, but it can happen to women who are lured from middle class families. It doesn’t discriminate.”

Research from the foundation shows that young girls, typically between the ages of 14 and 22, are often lured into sex trafficking by males initially offering innocent boyfriend relationship, before forcing them into the trafficking world with drugs and threats of violence. A chilling version of the Canadian national anthem drives the message home.

“If you think of the age when most girls are entered in trafficking, it’s an age when they’re in school,” Haid says. “We all grew up starting our school day listening to that anthem, so we’re really trying to hammer home this idea that this is a made-in-Canada problem that disproportionately targets young girls.”

The Joy Smith Foundation was founded in 2012 by Joy Smith, now a former Progressive Conservative MLA in Manitoba and Conservative MP in the House of Commons. During her time as a legislator, Smith put forward several motions to fight against sex trafficking in Canada, work her foundation is continuing now that she is a “civilian.”

Smith says this is the first public awareness campaign the Foundation has done, previously focusing on outreach and education programs in schools and communities.

“We’re doing this because we want to get the message wide,” Smith says. “Kids use social media, and these are the targets of human traffickers. We want kids, as well as their parents, to see this and educate themselves and start asking questions to understand how pervasive this issue is, because it’s not something the general public is talking about even though we’re losing a decade of Canada’s young people to it.”