My husband and I LOVE road trips. We have driven from Ontario to the West Coast, from Seattle to Chicago (x2), to Washington DC in a December blizzard, to Atlanta, Georgia for the Catalyst Conference (x4)…not to mention Jay’s diamond digging expedition to Arkansas with his best friend Richard (long story). We were pretty excited a couple of months ago when we heard about the Justice Summit taking place in Ottawa – and the word “ROAD TRIP!” may or may not have been blurted out in anticipation as we began to envision our drive to the nation’s capital! I was looking forward to meeting other abolitionists and learning from those on the front lines. Here are some of my notes and thoughts from each session:
What I Learned From MP Joy Smith:
New Dreams Can Catch You By Surprise. Joy was a math teacher with a dream of being the school principal, and she was slated to be the next one at her school. But when her students opened up to her about a sexual predator who was involved with some of the kids on her school, she made a decision that changed the course of her dreams. She immediately went to the principal and told her they needed to call the police. Worried about the school’s reputation, the principal refused, and threatened Joy that if she called the police, she would kiss her chance to be principal the next year goodbye. Joy called the police, and a dangerous man was arrested. Her dream of being a school principal slowly began to transform into a new dream – one of ending exploitation and human trafficking in Canada and around the world.
Fighting Human Trafficking Requires Courage. Fast forward several years – she became a Member of Parliament and has lead government efforts to combat human trafficking. She worked with one of the victims in Canada’s first human trafficking case. She has had 5 threats on her life, as well as her daughter’s life. This is what can happen when you stand up to organized crime, but she is not letting fear cripple her.
Regular Life Does Not Stop Even When You Have a “Cause.” I love how open and honest Mrs. Smith was at the summit. She talked about being a mom to her 6 children, and about how when her bill passed in Parliament, she was in a rainy parking lot trying to find juice for her husband who was fighting cancer in the hospital. Having a cause to fight for does not mean that the rest of life’s struggles end.
The Word That MUST characterize an Abolitionist: Mrs. Smith said: “The only good thing about me is that I am willing.” Let’s add “willing” to our vocabulary.
What I Learned from Brian McConaghy:
Unlikely Examples of Forgiveness. Brian, who started the Ratanak Foundation, rescues and restores child victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia. When he was part of the RCMP, he was also in charge of the freezer contents in the Robert Pickton case. With this type of work it is a miracle he is able to talk about forgiveness. He showed us a picture of one of the girls at his safe house writing a letter of forgiveness to her mother for selling her into the sex trade. Wow. We have much to learn from these beautiful young women.
The Hearts of Traffickers Can Change. Brian’s team not only reaches out to victims of sex trafficking, but also to pimps, traffickers, and mama-sans. Ratanak has set up a gym where the men can work out, and the team uses that as an opportunity to build relationships, have conversation, and help them to change their ways. Progress and heart change is happening, albeit slowly. This is revolutionary. Many of these boys and men grew up doing this, with role models who did the same, and they need to be re-educated by people who understand what true love looks like. After all, the song “Amazing Grace” was written by repentant human trafficker from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
We Are All Shackled. Jamie, who is the founder of International Justice Mission Canada and just finished the Master’s program in International Human Rights law at Oxford University, reminded us that there is one chain that weaves itself around the world, and ridding ourselves from that may be the fight of our lives. It’s so true. We have to untangle ourselves from the system of exploitation that exploits us or allows us to exploit others.
In addition to hearing these amazing keynote messages, I attended two workshops. Shae Invidiata from Free-them spoke passionately and practically on what effective activism looks like. She pointed out that when we quote statistics, we have to make them relevant and easy for people to grasp. For example, when we talk about 27 million slaves in the world today, we can mention that it is close to the population of Canada. Imagining all of Canada in slavery puts the numbers into perspective. I also got to hear the personal stories of two young women who were lured into the sex trade and how they are now on a journey towards healing.
After the conference we had relaxed dinner with abolitionist friends from Walk With Me and Free-them, with conversations meandering from serious topics like how song lyrics affect teenagers and how we all got involved in the fight against human trafficking, to more light-hearted topics like the Ottawa tulip festival (which we never we able to find…) and what we all do for work when we’re not organizing awareness events, or making documentaries, or taking care of trafficking survivors. I felt so full when we left – and not just because I had pasta for dinner! It truly is a blessing to be part of a movement with such amazing people, and spending time with them was so refreshing.
On Monday we visited Parliament Hill and got to meet with MP Joy Smith in the morning. I have so much respect for her – she is doing so much in Canada’s government to fight and prevent human trafficking, and it was an honour and delight to spend some time with her at her office.
Our Ottawa visit concluded with my interview at Camino, an amazing fair trade co-operative that makes delicious chocolate, baking ingredients, drinks, and snack bars. We received several travel snacks for the ride home, yum! Thanks to our amazing and hospitable relatives who had us in their home, and for everyone who put the Justice Summit together. Many blog posts will no doubt be inspired by this trip!