BY RANDI BEERS
SPECIAL TO THE TRURO DAILY NEWS
TRURO – Early next Monday morning, Lia Renaud is going to start a walk that will hopefully change some lives for the better.
The 280-kilometre walk, to raise awareness about human trafficking in Canada, will begin in Halifax and end four days later in Moncton, N.B.
“We planned it in three weeks,” said Renaud, explaining she was at a meeting at the Slate Youth Centre in Truro a few weeks ago and the subject turned to human trafficking. Renaud, who had earned her undergraduate degree studying the subject at Western University in London, Ont., said she raised her hand that night and offered to walk to Moncton to raise awareness about the issue.
“I think the important thing for people to realize is that it can happen to anybody,” said the Ontario native who now lives in Colchester County and has worked with human trafficking survivors.
To demonstrate this point, she told the story of a woman she met during her undergraduate work who got involved into human trafficking 10 kilometres from where she grew up, in London, Ont.
She referred to her friend “Stacy,” saying she got involved in human trafficking through her boyfriend, who happened to be a local businessman with ties to organized crime.
“They started a business together and when money started to become an issue, he suggested she start working at a strip club,” said Renaud.
From there, she said, the relationship dynamics changed. He started to physically and emotionally abuse her, prostituted her at a local motel and broke all of her toes at one point. He kept her in this state for eight years, until somebody saw them fighting in front of the motel where she worked and called the police.
“She never pressed criminal charges (against her boyfriend) because she knew she would be killed,” said Renaud, matter-of-factly.
“She actually received a paper bag with a gun and duct tape in it on her third-floor balcony after she was freed. It had a note that said, ‘keep your mouth shut.’”
Renaud said this is only one example in an epidemic that heavily affects Atlantic Canada. She said the root causes of human trafficking are complex and varied. Sometimes people new to Canada get into it because they are vulnerable and new to the country. Sometimes young women run away to the city and end up getting involved with drugs and prostitution to make ends meet.
Renaud sees battling ignorance as a way to start battling the root causes of it – the more people are aware, the more action can be taken, she said.
“What we’re battling in many communities is people aren’t aware it’s happening in their own backyards,” she said. “The reason we’re doing this is to create awareness and offer education that human trafficking is happening here.”
Jessica MacDonald, who grew up in Millbrook, will also be walking the entire 280-kilometre distance with Renaud next week.
“I think Aboriginal women are the most vulnerable people in Canada to human trafficking,” said MacDonald. “And to know that I have two younger sisters – that stirred something inside me.”
In conjunction with the walk, Renaud hosted a human trafficking presentation at the Central Nova Scotia Women’s Resource Centre on Tuesday evening.
Renaud is vocal about the complexity of the issue of human trafficking, but small victories like what she describes happened after her presentation Tuesday night give her satisfaction.
“About 20 to 25 people attended and after the session, people decided to come together to create a committee to create change in Colchester County,” she said.
“I think that’s something to be proud of. It isn’t a ‘we’re going on a walk and then it’s the end of this’ – this is the start of something bigger.”
Four people will be walking with Renaud and MacDonald from Halifax to Truro and a handful of other people, including human trafficking survivors, will join them during the walk to participate in sections of the walk.
Human trafficking facts:
- Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation and/or harbouring of persons for the purposes of exploitation or forced labour.
- The United Nations estimates as many as 2.5 million people are victimized by human trafficking.
- Roots of human trafficking include increasing demand for low cost of labour, poverty, lack of education and inequality.
- Police ask anybody who suspects they see evidence of human trafficking to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.