An American initiative called, Truckers Against Trafficking and its Freedom Drivers mobile unit made the trek from North Carolina to Shawanaga First Nation in Ont., over the weekend.
The unit, set up in the back of a trailer, is a walk-through media exhibit with actual stories of victims of human trafficking from across the United States. It aims to educate truckers on what to watch while on busy highways.
Project director Brandy Belton said there are red flags out there for people to watch for.
“You might be in a rest area or truck stop and you happen to see, you know, young children being unloaded out of a vehicle that are walking through a parking lot, knocking on windows or doors, or someone who looks like they may be malnourished or, you know, abused,” she said.
It’s the first time the exhibit has come to Canada.
Shawanaga’s new gas station is located on Hwy 69, 30 km north of Parry Sound, a busy corridor where more than 10,000 vehicles pass by its door every day.
According to Chief Adam Pawis, that’s why Truckers Against Trafficking was invited to spend the day.
“This tragedy happens every day and so we don’t want to see anyone go missing whether they’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone get hurt and we also want to remind people that if you see something that is amiss that it’s not a wrong move to pick up phone and call somebody.”
Truckers Against Trafficking is a U.S. based organization that operates with the support of America’s transportation industry and claims to have the ability to “combat the injustice head-on,” according to its website. “Truckers are now one of the most motivated, well organized, industry groups on this issue,” the website says.
“We recognize that our organization must address historical and contemporary injustices from a posture of humility; thus we will use our position within the transportation industry to amplify the voices and lived experiences of survivors of trafficking, recognizing that [B]lack, [I]ndigenous, and people of colour are disproportionately affected.”
Christine King from Wausaksing First Nation walked through the unit, and what she read brought her to tears.
“The stories that are there, they’re just, to see the age of these young girls, these young women who were just girls and then became young women at the age of 14 and 15,” she said. “To see this mirror, to read that story that they were to practice. That’s not what we practice, how to strip at 14 and 15.”
According to a report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, roughly 50 per cent of trafficked victims are Indigenous women.
Bridget Perrier was one of them.
“I was lured into the sex trade at the age of 12 from a child welfare-run group home,” she said.
Perrier is a co-founder of Sex Trade 101 – a survivor-led organization that educates the public and provides support for those who are still involved in the sex trade.
Perrier said Canada has spent millions on the issues, yet exploited youth and women continue to fall through the cracks.
“You know, this is great, but what we need are exiting services tailored for First Nations women and girls,” she said. “We have nothing, we don’t need to put survivors or victims of human trafficking in a domestic violence shelter. We need our own safe house. We don’t have a safe house that’s tailored for youth.
“We, you know, it’s just religious organizations that I cannot send our girls to.”
The Freedom Truckers mobile unit will head to Toronto for a few more shows before heading back to North Carolina.
Belton hopes to bring it back to Canada, to do more community events.