Opposition parties are criticizing the Liberal government for allowing funding for organizations that help women and girls who are sex trafficked and exploited to lapse, urging the government to reverse its decision.
Earlier this month, organizations across Canada that help sexually exploited women and girls said the government decided not to renew federal funding they rely on, forcing them to close programs. The funding was set to expire, but the groups anticipated it being renewed.
“These programs are vital, these programs save lives, these programs give people a second chance and these programs are working to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” Conservative MP Karen Vecchio said at a press conference Thursday morning.
Ms. Vecchio was joined by NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen and Green Party MP Jenica Atwin.
“We know that there has been an increase in sexual exploitation and human trafficking and this problem has been made even worse through COVID-19,” Ms. Vecchio said.
She said members of Parliament from each opposition party sent a letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair denouncing the decision.
“The pain and suffering caused by human trafficking is alleviated in part by the heroic work of local organizations, who are dedicated to supporting and protecting women facing human trafficking,” the letter says.
“That is why, opposition parties are calling on the government to reverse their decision to allow the expiry of funding specifically dedicated to helping these organizations deliver programming to help victims and survivors of human trafficking.”
Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blair and Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Ms. Monsef, issued a joint statement touting the government’s response to human trafficking, but did not comment directly on the lapsed funding.
“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Our government launched a new comprehensive National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, to combat it in all its forms, as well as better protecting survivors, who are among society’s most vulnerable,” the statement said.
“Backed by $75-million in additional investments, the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking will increase Canada’s ability to fight this abhorrent attack on basic human rights and dignity.” That funding was announced in September, 2019.
Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said she repeatedly contacted the Justice Department and after months of waiting, she and her colleagues learned their proposals submitted to the victims’ fund would not be approved. She said a department official informed her that more consultations would need to be done before the rest of the money in the human trafficking fund was allocated.
Ms. Walker said previously in an interview that her organization will have to close its federally funded anti-sex trafficking program, which operated for five years and served more than 3,000 trafficked, prostituted, sexually exploited and at-risk women and girls.
She said the program was initially funded under the previous Conservative government and while it was set to expire in March, she thought it would continue. The funding came from the Measures to Address Prostitution Initiative (MAPI), which was a five-year program scheduled to end at the end of March, 2020.
Ms. Mathyssen said the London Abused Women’s Centre is “vital” to the support that exists in London for women and victims of human trafficking.
“This is what happens when women’s organizations right across the country depend on project-based funding, organizations are left to scramble and scrape together the funding to deliver programs that they know are essential,” she said.
Ms. Mathyssen said the government needs to provide “stable, reliable funding.”
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