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

Brandt, a former pediatric nurse, founded the organization Not in My City in 2017

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

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Human trafficking

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market will be opening for the outdoor season this weekend. (File Photo)
A new season at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market begins

Opening day will be on Saturday, April 24

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson’s REDress Project exhibit vandalized

The REDress Project brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women

Frisky Whisky has closed its doors to the public under public health orders. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Cocktail lounge in Creston gets creative to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Frisky Whisky is now offering a lunch takeout menu and take-home cocktail kits

(Pixabay)
Earth Day: Creston Climate Action asks residents to join the conversation on climate change

In celebration of Earth Day, local Creston Climate Action group is inviting… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 more COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine for injection at the Victoria Clipper Terminal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout not enough to bring back normal life by fall: report

Only 51% of the population will be protected under B.C.’s current rollout, SFU professors say more vaccinations are needed to achieve herd immunity

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
UPDATED: Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Most Read