After a decade-long career as a Member of Parliament representing Kildonan-St. Paul, MP Joy Smith recently announced she will not be seeking re-election in 2015. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to meet Mrs. Smith or follow her work, she has become known as a champion on the Hill regarding the issue of human trafficking.
But before she stepped foot into politics, she was a math and science teacher and the mother of six children. Her passion for kids and youth, coupled with her experience in education, is no doubt part of the reason she is able to bring such passion, patience, and persistence to her work in Parliament.
While many of us are sad to see her leave Parliament, Mrs. Smith’s fight against sex trafficking is far from over.
How has awareness on the issue of human trafficking changed during the time you have been in Parliament?
There has been a huge change in the awareness of human trafficking over the past 11 years. When I started, Parliamentarians weren’t aware of it, the public wasn’t aware of it and the media wasn’t aware. That’s why I had to bring in victims to tell their story. I started this with the study that I spearheaded in the Status of Women Committee in 2006 on sex trafficking. This study allowed me to bring in victims and stakeholders to officially tell Parliamentarians about human trafficking.
What are some success stories of bipartisan partnership and action on this issue of human trafficking?
On the Private Members Bills and Motions that I tabled over the years, I always sought to have bipartisan support. Motion M-153 received unanimous support. Bill C-268 was seconded by a Liberal and NDP MP and received largely bipartisan support (the Bloc Party and 3 NDP MPs voted against it). And Bill C-310 received unanimous support among MPs. Some of the MPs that I have had the pleasure of working with across the aisle include MP Cotler, MP Comartin, MP Stoffer and MP Mourani.
You husband was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2007. What has it been like to fight the battle against trafficking in Parliament while simultaneously fighting the battle against cancer on the home front?
It was extremely difficult. I felt like I had no options because I knew victims were depending on me. So I knew I had to press on. It was my faith that kept me balanced and propelled me through it.
You’ve had tremendous success in passing legislation. Can you briefly highlight the importance of each?
Motion 153 – This motion set the stage for Parliament. Under this motion Parliament unanimously agreed to take action to fight human trafficking and develop a national strategy.
Bill C-268 – This bill was important because it ensured child traffickers received a sentence that reflected the gravity of their crime. It provided victims with the certainty that their traffickers would go to prison for significant amount of time, giving them courage to come forward and testify.
Bill C-310 – This Bill enhanced and clarified the definition of exploitation in the human trafficking offence. Police and prosecutors were having challenges proving exploitation and securing convictions. The Bill also made all human trafficking offences extraterritorial, reflecting the international scope of the crime.
Bill C-36 – This Bill changed Canada’s approach to prostitution from viewing it as nuisance crime to instead see prostitution as a crime of gender inequality and commodification, reflecting the Nordic Model. Under the new laws, the demand for sexual commodification is criminalized but not the prostituted individual. The law also prevent the advertising of another’s sexual services.
In your opinion, what is the next step our government can take to end sexual exploitation?
Our government needs to focus more on two areas: we need more awareness and we need more programs and services for victims.
What will you miss about working on the Hill?
I will miss my staff, who have become like family to me. I will miss my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who I have built strong relationships with over the years.
What won’t you miss about working on the Hill?
I am not good at politics. I don’t like the partisan way good initiatives are blocked due to politics. That will not be missed.
What is one of the most significant things you’ve learned about your time as a Member of Parliament?
That you can make a difference.
What’s next? What are you excited about?
I am excited about leaving politics to focus on the Joy Smith Foundation full time. Through my Foundation we are saving lives. The Foundation has to main objectives: first to increase awareness to Canadian about human trafficking and second to raise funds to support NGOs who rehabilitate victims of trafficking. We have done great things over the past two years and I am looking forward to seeing it continue to grow and impact people.
Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for all your hard work on behalf of trafficking victims in our country, and for setting such a great example of what it looks like to truly care. As you wrap up your time in office, I hope it is a rewarding and celebratory time.
For those of you who want to learn more about Mrs. Smith’s anti-trafficking work, check out the Joy Smith Foundation. You can also take the Up All Night challenge, Canada’s no-sleep-a-thon on May 29. Register today and you can raise funds for the Joy Smith Foundation!