Half the Sky Inspires Anti-Trafficking Action in French Canada

Posted on August 06, 2012, by Coleen MacKinnon, Half the Sky Quebec

While on vacation last summer in Stowe, Vermont, I happened upon a copy of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I had just completed some research for an American anti-slavery group and was reflecting on what I might do back in Canada to accelerate anti-trafficking efforts. It was as though the book mystically presented itself. "Here" it said, "Buy me — the answer lies within." When I finished the last page I sat upright. There was no question; I was going to do something, but what? I ordered a dozen copies of the book and gave them to 12 friends and acquaintances. "Read this," I said, "then come to my house for a discussion. We're going to make something important happen."


From left to right: Margaret Douek, Annie Robert, Coleen MacKinnon, Alicia Charette, Nathalie Haccoun, Caroline Dillon. 



When we held our discussion on various forms of female oppression, we decided we would tackle the one that presented itself here in our own backyard: human trafficking and forced exploitation of women and children. Our aim: to raise awareness and encourage action to combat trafficking in Quebec.


The group quickly formed two subcommittees. The first would organize a 'Global to Local' trafficking event featuring Sheryl WuDunn and a local survivor of human trafficking. The second would undertake a consultative community engagement process to raise awareness and encourage policy and legislative support to prevent trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and support victims. The Palermo Protocol adopted by the UN in 2000 informed this sub-committee’s mission. We would invite stakeholders ­— frontline service agencies, community organizations, police, prosecutors, elected officials, schools and the media — to contribute to a collective solution. Half the Sky Quebec, with the blessing of Nicholas and Sheryl, was born.

In the last six months we've met and partnered with a wide range of individuals, organizations and government officials. Many have had the same reaction: "Human trafficking in Quebec? Ca ne se peut pas,” or, in English, “That can't be possible.” And that was our first challenge. While the English-speaking world has great resources and research that raise awareness on this issue, French Canada suffers from a dearth of information in French. So, we made a French video, the first of its kind in Quebec. La traite de personnes au Quebec (Human Trafficking in Quebec) is the story of a woman who goes by Valerie — the personal account of how, as a fifteen-year-old girl, she was deceptively lured into the sex trade. It's also the story of Dominic Monchamp, the sergeant detective who rescued her from a living hell. Through their words, we're able to spread the message that human trafficking is not a crime relegated to distant shores but in fact a serious issue for many Quebecoises, too. 

All our materials are now in French, including a French blog that explains human trafficking, the Palermo Protocol to combat trafficking and Sweden's success at implementing it. Our intention is to encourage the same kind of success at home. 

Sheryl and 'Valerie' will meet on stage on October 23 in Montreal. The results of the community consultation will be presented to government officials and press. We're in the midst of developing a comprehensive pre- and post-event media strategy that should have all Montreal-ers — Anglophone and Francophone alike — united and inspired to put an end to human trafficking in La Belle Province. All thanks to one sensational book!

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