June 1, 2012 Volume 26, Number 06
Justice Summit urges people to use their gifts to fight modern slavery
By Deborah Gyapong | Special to Christian Week
Photo by Ira Gelb
OTTAWA, ONBrian McConaghy, trained as a police sniper and forensics expert, told the Justice Summit on May 5 he may have had "a useless skill set" for helping rescue children who had been trafficked into sex slavery.
But witnessing on video the rape and torture of six little girls as evidence in Canada's first sex tourism prosecution, the former RCMP officer recognized the locales because of relief work he had done in Cambodia. With his help, the girls were rescued and were able to testify against their abuser.
McConaghy went on to found Ratanak Foundation, which provides help for children and reaches out to their traffickers in hopes of their conversion. He was just one of several presenters during the day-long summit that featured a number of groups that fight human trafficking or help people leave the sex trade and rebuild their lives.
Other speakers included victims of trafficking who spoke of their ordeal and are now helping others like them escape.
McConaghy said his lack of a skill set did not matter when it came to getting involved. He urged the 200 summit participants from more than 80 churches and several provinces to commit themselves to fighting the modern day scourge of human trafficking in any way they could.
He drew on the example of William Wilberforce, an ordinary man with ordinary abilities who, with the help of many other ordinary people, built a coalition that ended the African Slave Trade in the British Empire. The battle took decades and immense persistence, he said.
Though 11 million Africans were kidnapped or sold into slavery over a 141 year period, about 78,000 annually, as many as 800,000 human beings are trafficked annually todaywomen and children into the sex trade; and men, women and children into forced labour.
Conservative MP Joy Smith told the conference her previous training had been in math and science. Before entering politics she was a high school math teacher. "There's only one thing that's good about me, and that is I'm willing."
She came across the horrors of human trafficking because of her son, who was a police officer in the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit in Winnipeg. Like McConaghy, she found she could not look away.
Trafficking brings criminals $32 billion in annual profits, said Jamie McIntosh of the International Justice Mission Canada, an organization that brings legal tools to fight trafficking and runs sting operations to rescue enslaved people.
"I don't think any of us set out when we were kids to get engaged in this kind of work," McIntosh said.
The former youth pastor said everyone is called to be an advocate and to speak up against injustice, especially for those enslaved, some who "quite literally have duct tape wrapped over their mouths" and can't speak up for themselves.
"Each of us is responsible for the realities shown to us," he said. "You here today are rising up."
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) policy analyst Julia Beazley and EFC legal counsel Don Hutchinson spoke on prostitution as the end point of human trafficking, an end point that includes street prostitution, brothels, massage parlors, strip clubs and escort services.
Ninety-five per cent of those engaged in prostitution do not choose it and would get out if they thought they could, said Beazley.
Canada should move away from prosecuting the victims of prostitution--the women and children caught in sex slavery--and prosecute the johns or customers and attack the demand for the services, she said.
She urged changing the conversation about prostitution so that it would be called the world's oldest oppression instead of profession.
Prostitution is a justice issue, not a moral issue, she said. "We need to challenge society's acceptance of paid sex and erase the line between trafficking and prostitution."