Organizations across Canada that work to help sexually exploited women and girls say the Liberal government has decided not to renew federal funding they rely on, forcing them to close programs.
Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said her organization will have to close its federally funded anti-sex-trafficking program. The program operated for five years and served more than 3,000 trafficked, prostituted, sexually exploited and at-risk women and girls.
Under the program, women and girls could access their services immediately, Ms. Walker said. They could drop in to the centre when they needed clothing or to be some place warm, and staff members helped them access health facilities and education. The federal funding also helped public awareness initiatives, with members of LAWC visiting schools and teaching students about the tactics of traffickers, such as luring.
“I’m just devastated for what will and what is happening to trafficked, sexually exploited and prostituted women and girls right now. It’s just really outrageous,” Ms. Walker said, adding that the provincially funded programs, which also service women and girls who are sexually exploited or trafficked, will continue.
The anti-trafficking program was initially funded under the previous Conservative government, Ms. Walker said. The funding was set to expire in March, but she had anticipated it being continued. After waiting for months and repeatedly contacting the Justice Department, Ms. Walker said she and her colleagues learned their proposals submitted to the Justice Department victims’ fund would not be approved.
Rachel Rappaport, a spokesperson for the Justice Minister and Marie-Pier Baril, a spokesperson for the Minister of Women and Gender Equality, issued a joint statement, saying the federal government is committed to strengthening efforts to combat human trafficking through the government’s national strategy, which includes an investment of $75-million announced in September, 2019.
“The Measures to Address Prostitution Initiative (MAPI) fund was a five-year program that was set to close at the end of March 2020 and we thank all the organizations that took part in it for their valuable contributions. We are aware of the impact that the sun-setting of this program has had on some organizations, and we are working across government to try and find solutions to enable them to continue their work,” the statement says.
Ms. Walker said the biggest impact of losing the funding is to “the lives of women and girls who will not have a safety plan and will face continued violence on the streets by sex purchasers in hotel rooms and by traffickers,” adding that now when women reach out, they may not be able to provide them with immediate support.
Theresa Jenkins, executive director of Reset Society of Calgary, said she is in the same position as Ms. Walker. Ms. Jenkins’ organization relied on federal funding for its Exploitation Intervention and Transition (EXIT) program, which helped support 327 women and their children leave sex-trafficking over the course of five years.
“I was told there was money coming to continue funding the program,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I took all that time and efforts in October to write up a new proposal, I contacted the Justice program officer twice, who said it was in the committee’s hands and we should hear any day. Now we hear this news.”
“It is devastating to say the least, especially for some of these other agencies who will have to close their doors,” she said.
Sex trafficking has not slowed down because of the pandemic, according to Ms. Walker. She said her agency has received six phone calls from parents whose daughters were lured online to “remove their clothes and masturbate." The girls’ actions were videotaped and posted on the Internet.
“Trafficking will never slow down,” Ms. Walker said.
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