After four years of effort, a recovery home for people caught in the web of human trafficking — primarily people forced to work in the sex trade — is about to open.
David Bouchard, president of the Magdalene House Society in Red Deer, said a house has been leased and is in the process of being furnished, and staff are being hired.
All of this will be completed in February, he said, and the home will initially house up to five people. The location is being kept confidential to protect the people who will reside there.
Bouchard said Magdalene House will offer a one-year program to its residents.
“At the end of 12 months it is our goal that they will be more self-reliant, more self-confident and they will be able to operate on their own. They’ll be able to find employment and have their own place to stay in.”
There will be counselling involved, and the society is collaborating with Catholic Social Services to provide that. There will also be job skill training, and some people who might need to improve schooling can take online schooling.
Human trafficking involves people being treated as possessions, controlled and exploited, and forced into prostitution or involuntary labour. RCMP have said in the past that as many as 800 people a year are forced into labour or the sex trade in Canada.
An RCMP report focused largely on sex slavery but said forced labour is also a problem, with live-in domestic employees being controlled, threatened, underpaid and forced to work. There have been a number of convictions in Canada.
Bouchard said the majority of the people who will stay at the Magdalene House Society home are expected to be women who have been involved in the sex trade but there could also be other cases, such as men who are victims of labour trafficking.
Much of the sex trade in Red Deer is underground, Bouchard said.
“It’s all happening in social media so you don’t necessarily see a whole lot of it going on in the streets, although that does happen in certain areas of Red Deer,” he said.
The society expects to receive referrals from agencies that are in contact with the victims, such as from police, and hospital and social workers.
Bouchard, currently a second-term Red Deer Catholic school board trustee, said after he retired from teaching in Red Deer his interest in social justice issues led him to a job of giving human trafficking workshops across Canada, through the Canadian Religious Conference, a Catholic church organization.
He said he realized then that there was no place for people to recover in Red Deer, and that’s how the idea of the home got started.
Magdalene House Society has enough funds to run the home for its first year, but will need to raise funds for the second year. It does not receive any money from government to operate.
“We’re quite excited about all the developments that have happened in the last year,” Bouchard said.
The society also runs a fair trade store downtown in its office in the Towne Centre Mall on Ross Street, and has expanded its selling of coffee to clothing and jewelry.
They are going to celebrate the new home on Saturday, Feb. 21, during this year’s annual Day of Awareness on Human Trafficking. Our Sweet Tooth For Justice will be in the Frontier Room of Westerner Park’s Parkland Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. The keynote speaker is Kate Quinn, a member of the National Task Force on Human Trafficking and Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation in Edmonton. The free admission evening includes “exquisite desserts” and entertainment.