Paul Brandt performs at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Paul Brandt performs at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Fighting human trafficking ‘more urgent’ amid pandemic: country star Paul Brandt

CALGARY — Advocates in the fight against human trafficking say the financial hardship and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic have helped perpetrators find new targets.

“Traffickers are taking advantage of this time where vulnerable people are at home and online and that really makes our work feel much more urgent,” said country music star Paul Brandt, who has been leading a committee to help guide Alberta’s fight against the crime for almost a year.

Brandt, a former pediatric nurse, founded the organization Not in My City in 2017 with his wife Liz to raise awareness and bring together those fighting exploitation.

Julia Drydyk, executive director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said while more data is needed to assess pandemic’s total impact, it’s clear human traffickers have adjusted their tactics.

“In addition to looking for and identifying individuals in the real-world community spaces — outside schools, even in homeless shelters — we’re also seeing an increase in the use of social media for people to identify, lure and groom individuals.”

The group recently published a report — based largely on interviews with law enforcement and non-governmental organizations — that suggests there’s a growing trend of sex traffickers moving young women from Quebec who speak little or no English to Alberta.

Traffickers who would have flown victims between provinces before the pandemic are transporting them by car, which makes it easier to stay under the radar, Drydyk said.

Despite the pandemic, resources remain available to survivors, she said, including the centre’s 24-7 phone and chat hotline.

Drydyk said her group wants to see law enforcement agencies work more closely across jurisdictions and for government to provide sustainable and adequate funding for reliable services for survivors.

Alberta RCMP Const. Kristin Appleton said traffickers haven’t slowed down during the pandemic from what she can tell.

“The reason being, it’s all about the profits they’re making.”

People who have lost jobs and don’t qualify for government benefits have become more vulnerable, as have youth who have been spending more time online.

“These traffickers will basically troll any of these sites and if somebody says, ‘Today I’m not feeling so pretty,’ they’ll start chatting and before you know it, they have a friend and this friend grooms them.”

Appleton would like to see more resources for law enforcement and for young people to learn about human trafficking in school so they know the warning signs.

ACT Alberta, which provides front-line support to human trafficking survivors, saw a steep dive in referrals at the beginning of the pandemic, said interim executive director Jessica Brandon.

“Likely people were getting stuck in a place with their trafficker,” she said. “The ability to be alone and come forward or self-refer or even just the ability to call law enforcement was essentially zero.”

Calls have since ramped back up. Since virtual intakes often aren’t feasible with traffickers looming nearby, the group has added pandemic safety protocols to help survivors in person.

Brandon said ACT came before the Alberta committee this summer with a plea that labour trafficking — where mainly foreign workers are funnelled into jobs through force, fraud or coercion — be treated as seriously as sex trafficking.

Often one leads to the other, especially for women, she said.

Brandt said the provincial panel has been meeting twice a month. It has heard from 90 presenters from law enforcement, government, front-line agencies and “pretty much everybody who has an opinion about human trafficking.”

The group has also heard from eight individuals about their personal experience and there was a recent video conference with deputy ministers from eight different government departments.

“I went through each of the ministries and I explained the intersections between their specific ministry and human trafficking,” Brandt said.

Alberta Justice spokesman Ian Roddick said representatives from nine ministries have formed a working group on human trafficking that meets regularly.

The government is reviewing resources available to fight it and support survivors, but the pandemic has made it tough to pin down a timeline.

The panel hopes to issue recommendations soon after that review is done, Brandt said.

“We want to make sure that these recommendations are backed up by a true picture of what’s happening here in the province.”

The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010

ACT Alberta for Edmonton and northern Alberta: 780-218-5815

Act Alberta for Calgary and southern Alberta: 587-585-5236

Just Posted

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Riley Oldford, 16, suffers from cerebral palsy. He was the first youth in the Northwest Territories to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here he receives the needle from nurse practitioner Janie Neudorf in Yellowknife on Thursday May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden
People with disabilities even more alone during pandemic: cerebral palsy spokeswoman

YELLOWKNIFE — Riley Oldford is usually out playing sledge hockey or hanging… Continue reading

Most Read