Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Alberta launches new office to combat human trafficking

The Government of Alberta announced the creation of a new office, lead by a public-private partnership between the government and non-profit agencies, to combat human trafficking in the province.

The Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons will be lead by agencies #NotInMyCity, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, and REACH Edmonton Council for Safer Communities.

The office comes from work done by the province’s Human Trafficking Task Force, which tabled their report to the government in May of last year.

“Oftentimes, this isn’t an issue that is thought about in places like Alberta. We need to understand that trafficking happens, and it happens here, and in many forms,” said Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services.

“We need to do our part to disrupt it, and in fact, stop it.”

Survivors need to be listened to

April Eve Wiberg, a survivor of human trafficking, said that she was liberated from sexual exploitation 17 years ago, after being enslaved and sold for sex across North America.

"I almost spent a decade of my life being sold in cities across western Canada and United States, in cities such as Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Las Vegas and New York City," she said.

"When I was first targeted and groomed I was taught to hide my indigenous identity. Because, I was told, that the sex buyers if they found out about this, that I would be more likely to be beaten, robbed, raped or murdered."

She said that the average age that girls are groomed into human trafficking is 13.

Wiberg said that it is important to believe survivors, and to work to end the demand side of sexual exploitation.

"We know that men and boys are also being groomed to become buyers and profiteers. This needs to be addressed."

She said that work that can be done by the public involves amplifying the message of survivors of human trafficking, and to push for more cross-border work between law enforcement and intelligence agencies like CSIS and the FBI, to combat the practice.

Premier Danielle Smith said that the Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons was not one what should be needed in the province, and that the hope was that one day it wouldn't be needed at all.

"But until that time, this office will bring together survivors of human trafficking along with community partners like social services providers and indigenous organizations who are best positioned to help find a way out and a path forward."

April Eve Wiberg, left, and Paul Brandt stand next to a race car that is sporting the logo and colours of #NotInMyCity as part of a campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking, at the Calgary downtown Marriott on Friday, July 28, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Human trafficking on the rise in Calgary

Charges laid against human traffickers have been on the rise in Alberta, and within the last several years, rising fast in Calgary due to increased reporting and awareness of this issue.

Paul Brandt, who chaired the task force and founder of #NotInMyCity, said that the "hockey stick" like rise in human trafficking incidents is an indication that efforts are working to combat traffickers.

"When #NotInMyCity started six years ago, we were told by top law enforcement, some people who we continue to work with today, that human trafficking doesn't happen in Alberta," he said.

"We know that it's out there, it's a largely hidden crime. And if we start to see more trafficking victims that are being identified, then I think that's good."

The province is putting forward $4 million over the next two years for the Alberta Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons office, out of a total of $22 million to implement the task force's recommendations.

"And we've gone from that to 22 million being spent in the next three years. I think that what's happened is this community response has been really robust. People are willing to step in and learn, and try to find ways to be able to serve survivors better."

Brandt said that nearly all of the recommendations from the task force have been accepted by the government, and that the government reviewing the sole remaining recommendation. The office was one of the recommendations made in the report.

"We were told by some involved to bring five recommendations, and we'd be lucky to get one. There were five primary recommendations, but there were actually 19 recommendations we brought forward, and 18 were accepted."

Minister Ellis said that the planning for the office was currently underway, and that staffing from the would be determined based on work done with the partner agencies.