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

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack tulip attraction open this weekend after being closed last year due to COVID-19

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

John Koopman passed away in May 2020. The current school board is looking into restructuring the board, which means the future of the vacancy left by Koopman is uncertain. (Photo/Barry Stewart)
By-election to fill Koopman’s seat on hold

Fraser-Cascade board to consider restructuring

Oregon spotted frog egg masses near Agassiz. (Fraser Valley Conservancy)
Jumping for joy over Oregon spotted frog discovery near Agassiz

Finding six egg masses could be step toward recovery of Canada’s most endangered amphibian

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
1 taken to hospital after plane crash at Metro Vancouver airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

Most Read