Committed to the mission to end human trafficking, lawyer and volunteer Audrey Ramsay sheds light on the devastating extent of this crisis, what’s being done to combat it, and why there is cause for optimism. Read our interview with Audrey below.
How did you become involved with NourishHOPE?
I first learned about International Justice Mission Canada's (IJM) efforts to rescue individuals from slavery (a term that encompasses human trafficking, sex trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage ) in 2011 when I attended a fundraising event hosted by NourishHOPE – the organization founded by Jennifer Ip of the Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company (LawPRO) to raise funds to benefit their work.
Before then, I had very little concept of the extent of human trafficking around the world, and the impact of slavery in supply chains of businesses. It is estimated that a staggering 40.3 million people are held in slavery worldwide! After learning more about how IJM lawyers, judges, social workers and investigators work in concert with local authorities to ensure that victims are rescued, perpetrators are brought to justice, training is provided to strengthen local justice systems, and survivors are returned to safety and to health, I felt a moral and social obligation to do more than simply give money.
And, there is still more that I can do. Over the years, I have been inspired by Justice Kenneth Pedlar and Jennifer Ip’s visits to the field to witness the important work of IJM Canada in action – action that has produced results. The rescue of trafficked teenage girls trapped in hotel rooms; the rescue of an entire family and subsequent trial of the employer who had held them to work off a debt; the rescue of a seven-year-old boy and his younger sister who were being sexually abused online – these are all IJM success stories; lives shattered and in need of restoration.
How does your work with NouishHOPE support the IJM mission?
NourishHOPE has raised about $400,000 to date, which translates into approximately 48 rescue operations. However, while the primary goal of NourishHOPE is to raise funds to support the work of IJM Canada, another is to educate and raise awareness, and leverage partnerships with like-minded stakeholders. In 2017, we participated on a panel hosted by the National Bar Association: “The Lawyer as Abolitionist: Effective Legal Assistance for Victims of Human Trafficking and Advising Business Clients Combatting Trafficking in the Supply Chain”.
Little by little, more light is being shed on modern-day slavery, and society, businesses, and governments around the world are now grappling with ways to eradicate it.
What it is about this cause that inspires your activism?
The call to do “justice” resonated with me and galvanized me into wanting to right the power imbalance that is the root cause of this crisis. The fact that women and children are key demographics for exploitation (54 per cent of victims rescued in IJM cases are 1-12 years old) spurred me to explore opportunities to advocate and collaborate with others interested in stamping out slavery.
Last year, we focused on raising funds to end cybersex trafficking of children – the live-streaming of their sexual exploitation over the internet. IJM’s work in the Philippines alongside authorities has resulted in an approximately 75 per cent to 86 per cent decrease in the availability of minors for purchase.
Do you think lawyers are especially well equipped – or that is particularly incumbent upon them – to advance social justice causes?
The importance of lawyers in the fight to combat modern slavery cannot be understated. Lawyers are generally interested in rights, interests and justice. Modern slavery is a global problem that will require multi-jurisdictional efforts and diverse stakeholders from government, nongovernmental and the private sector to eradicate it. Since 2012, the general public’s awareness of the problem has increased exponentially and, so too as the demand for legislation to combat it. Lawyers are ideally suited to become agents of change in mobilizing stakeholders, advocating for change, educating and raising awareness, and helping to transform civil and criminal justice reform.
Canada is in a legislative vacuum at the moment, but there are signs that our government, at all levels, is paying close attention and is considering how to address it.
- In 2018, the federal government announced a $75 million dollar commitment to the Government of Canada’s new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking. The same year, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons subcommittee released its report titled "A Call to Action: Ending the Use of All Forms of Child Labour in Supply Chains."
- The Ontario Government has created a strategy to tackle the problem. A granting program with respect to the Civil Proceeds of Crime ensures that assets seized from a crime are ultimately disbursed to the 17 police departments to fight human trafficking.
- The province recently announced a $20-million-dollar yearly commitment to invest in combatting human trafficking and provide support for survivors, needed services and initiatives, and coordination and collaborations with the police forces.
I am surrounded by lawyers who volunteer for very worthy causes and who are constantly asking the question: “What can I do to make a difference?” Whether it’s driven by a sense of duty or a common desire to give back, I believe volunteering for social justice causes makes lawyers more effective and empathetic in our everyday work.
How do you maintain optimism when faced with the ugliest aspects of humanity?
There is so much cause for optimism. One need only compare where the discussion was a decade ago to today. There are so many more stakeholders in the fight: doctors, lawyers, judges, businesses, non-governmental organizations, charities, and other stakeholders, all committed to the eradication of human trafficking.
What would you say is the most common misconception about human trafficking today?
The most common misconception about human trafficking is that it is not happening here. In 2014, the Toronto Police Service opened a human trafficking unit. In 2017, Detective Sgt. Nunziato Tramontozzi from the Toronto Police Service indicated in an interview with the CBC that human trafficking was at an all-time epidemic. The Ontario Government recently noted that about two-thirds of human trafficking violations in Canada reported to the police are in Ontario and, that the average age of victims recruited is 13 years old.
You recently orchestrated a successful Nourish Hope fundraising event. What were some the highlights for you?
There were so many wonderful highlights. Thanks to our generous sponsors and donors, we were able to raise funds for 13 rescue operations.
We were also delighted to welcome Attorney General Doug Downey and OBA President Colin Stevenson, whose words were inspiring, and served as important bookends to the powerful speech of Executive Director of IJM, Anu George Canjanathoppil. It was gratifying to learn from the Attorney General about the Ontario government’s current strategy and initiatives to combat human trafficking.
It was also heartening to hear the encouragement of President Stevenson, a long-time sponsor of NourishHOPE, who emphasized that that we are all allies in the international battle against injustice and abuse, and who urged us “to be a resounding voice for those who are afraid or are unable to speak for themselves.”