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Questions & Answers

1. There seem to be a lot of anti-slavery organizations in Canada. Is the AAMS a coalition of all – or some – of these groups, or is it a free-standing organization? In other words, what is its connection with the many Canadian anti-slavery organizations listed on your AAMS website?

AAMS is a free-standing officially incorporated and registered non for profit charitable organization. Like our local and global partners (Active History, ChocoSol, Dalit Freedom Network, Learning for Hope, The Harriet Tubman Institute and TEMEDT), we believe that alliance-building and collaboration among a network of local and global, public and private, non-profit, faith-based and governmental partners are fundamental. Studies show that a multi-agency, human-rights based approach to combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery through research, education, aid and advocacy creates better co-ordinated public education and training, social services, health care, shelter, legal aid, reintegration and vocational training for victims. It also prevents organizations from reinventing the wheel, increases visibility, access to information and expertise, and allows for the sharing of best practices, and more effective and innovative programming, which centre the voices of survivors.
We therefore encourage dialogue between individuals affected by modern-day slavery, other NGOs and regulatory bodies by providing a channel for communication. For this reason, our website lists dozens of anti-slavery organizations in Canada and abroad. We believe it’s important to provide a space for organizations to network and learn about one another. We currently work in collaboration with a number of the organizations listed.

2. Why did you feel that there was a need to form the AAMS? What void does it fill?

In September 2009, Karlee Sapoznik and Jeffrey Gunn met with Kevin Bales at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) in Hull, England. Prior to this meeting, the founding executive team of AAMS had identified the need to foster a spirit of alliance and cooperation among many groups in Canada. At that time, there was no non-profit organization in Canada with a non-partisan, non-denominational, multidisciplinary, inclusive local and global mandate. Under the guidance of AAMS’s first board members, AAMS’s executive team and three official co-founders - Karlee Sapoznik, Jeff Gunn and Mekhala Gunaratne – therefore founded one: the Alliance Against Modern Slavery. Since its beginning, AAMS has been a truly diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual organization. Together, our co-founders and executive speak 14 languages, and have spent time in all seven continents. Our executive team is made up of volunteer professors, artists, musicians, survivors, authors, lawyers, teachers, students, new Canadians, activists, grant writers, non for profit consultants, social media experts, videographers, engineers, website designers, members of a broad range of faith-based communities, and concerned citizens. While many of us have links to York University and Ontario, others live in Francophone and Anglophone communities across Canada. All of us work on a volunteer basis and do this work because we believe that modern slavery is, one of, if not the major human rights, health and security challenge of the twenty-first century.

3. Do you see the AAMS as taking on a role somewhat like Free the Slaves in the U.S. or Anti-Slavery International in the UK, or will it be different in some way?

We certainly look to Anti-Slavery International in the UK and Free the Slaves in the US as models. We deeply admire and respect the pioneering work they have done to combat slavery, and have sincerely appreciated our contact with both organizations. That said, Canada has its own unique context. As such, we have unique opportunities domestically and around the world.

1) LOCAL EXAMPLE: There are many complex issues facing our Aboriginal communities in Canada, in which we see young women particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. For instance, service providers have identified a triangular trade in Indigenous girls between Winnipeg, Kenora and Thunder Bay.

2) GLOBAL EXAMPLE: In comparison to the US and the UK, we have greater resources and capacity to work in francophone communities in the third world. Examples include Haiti, Rwanda and Mali, among many others.

Since 2009, we have worked within Canada’s unique context. In doing so, we have assisted survivors, collaborated with UNESCO schools, travelled locally and globally to do anti-slavery work, provided a forum for discussion and collaboration between hundreds of people through AAMS-led events, and spoken at dozens of conferences in Canada and abroad. We have made presentations at area high schools and created school curriculum. We have identified important “gap” areas in the support of survivors, including post-enslavement rehabilitation, and the understanding of memory and trauma. We have placed lesser-known forms of slavery, such as forced marriage, on the anti-slavery advocacy agenda.

4. What will the balance be between local and international issues?

The Alliance Against Modern Slavery’s mission is “glocal”. Given that slavery is now part of the process of globalization itself – a “dark underbelly of globalization” as Hilary Clinton has put it - we feel it is critical to have a micro and macro focus. Over the next three years, the balance between our local and global initiatives will be 50/50. Locally, we are involved in a number of projects, including the establishment of an Ontario Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, a Research Initiative, and Curriculum Units for students at all levels. We partner with Active History, work in collaboration with The Harriet Tubman Institute, which has made contemporary slavery part of its international research mandate, and we encourage our members and the public to purchase slavery-free products like those made by our partner ChocoSol Traders. Our annual conference and concert fall under our mandate to increase public education and awareness. They bring together hundreds of people as well as experts from all backgrounds and sectors, allowing Canadians to learn from one another to build a stronger, better organized community equipped to combat slavery. Here is a link to a past programme: http://www.allianceagainstmodernslavery.org/documents/PROGRAMME%20-%20PR...
Globally speaking, we currently work in partnership with Dalit Freedom Network (India), TEMEDT (Mali) and Learning for Hope (Peru), and have gone on several research trips. For instance, we helped launch Learning for Hope's vocational centre for survivors of sex trafficking in Cusco, and have started working in collaboration with several organizations in Mali, Africa, including TEMEDT. We are particularly interested in work being done on the ground in Mali to combat cocoa trafficking, forced servile marriage and hereditary slavery. Many Canadians are surprised to learn that after Haïti and Afghanistan, Mali is the third largest benefactor of funding from Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA). This presents us with a number of unique opportunities.

5. To what extent do you think that the issue of slavery as a modern phenomenon is in the public consciousness, and how do you hope AAMS might help to raise public awareness of this issue?

We are thrilled to see that awareness of contemporary slavery is growing. A few years ago, the common reaction we faced from the pubic was “Slavery, eh? Are you sure?” Now, people we speak to have often seen news stories on television, heard about cases, or read an article about human trafficking. That said, however, one leading expert of the RCMP estimates that only about 5% of Canadians understand the continued practice of slavery, and many people are still shocked to learn about this underpublicized human rights crisis. Fewer realize that the everyday commodities we consume, such as coffee, chocolate and clothing are produced by slave labour. We have therefore set out to increase that awareness while simultaneously working to eradicate the practice itself.

Central to this is uncovering a number of common myths:

#1: When most people here the word “slavery”, they tend to picture Africans and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, as we stress, slavery is transhistorical. It has impacted specific groups more so at specific times, but is not specific to any single race, gender or age group. It has and continues to affect men, women and children of all backgrounds throughout the globe.

#2: The myth of a slave-free Canada in the past is still common. We have a Canadian Heritage commercial that celebrates our role in helping slaves flee from the US through the Underground Railroad. This commercial fails to recognize the existence of slavery in Canada. As a result, Aboriginal and African slavery in early Canada is only now being recognized as part of Canadian history. This has also led to the myth that slavery has never existed in Canada, and still does not exist.

#3. Most experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves today. However, a common myth is that we have 27 million human trafficking victims. This is a huge stretch. Globally speaking, human trafficking is a very serious crime and most prevalent in countries in North America and Europe, but constitutes approximately 20% of total modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is one of MANY other forms of slavery. The largest form of enslavement remains hereditary collateral debt bondage, which is especially prevalent in South Asia. Further, a large proportion of slaves work in agriculture or in other forms of forced labour, including brick-making, mining and quarrying, textile manufacture, leather working, domestic service, forest clearing, and charcoal-making.

#4. Although most Canadians think of sex trafficking when they hear the word “trafficking”, human trafficking actually takes 3 main forms in Canada:  trafficking in the forms of (1) forced prostitution, (2) forced labour, and (3) forced marriage. Victims can be found in domestic and public settings.

#5. A fifth myth we strive to debunk is that most victims of trafficking in Canada are international victims, not Canadian citizens. Indeed, many people think human trafficking is only something affecting international victims – far from anything in Canada at the domestic level. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, at least 50% of reported human trafficking cases in Canada have been domestic.