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

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

A 26-foot recreational vehicle was stolen from a Qualicum Beach property early Wednesday morning, April 21. Police found the stolen vehicle nearly three hours later in Whiskey Creek. (Facebook photo)
RCMP act quickly after RV brazenly stolen from Qualicum Beach property

Vehicle recovered, 28-year-old man taken into custody

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

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial: Victim left to conclude out-of-court settlement on the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander in death of John Dillon Brown continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Most Read