EILEEN KERWIN JONES WORKS TO PROTECT THE MOST VULNERABLE – IN OTTAWA AND AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering that this kind of exploitation was happening right in our own backyard, going back to life as normal was impossible,” explains Dr. Eileen Kerwin Jones, founding member of PACT-Ottawa, People Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans.
In 2004, Dr. Kerwin Jones was invited to speak at a national conference on human trafficking. At the time, she was completing her PhD, studying the role of economic injustice on women’s lives. What she learned during the conference changed her life forever.
“Back then, there were very few organizations looking at human trafficking and very little awareness of the problem,” she says. “So, at the end of the conference, seven of us, all women, got together and decided to create PACT-Ottawa, which I’ve been deeply involved with ever since.
“At first, we worked on educating and supporting vulnerable groups in Ottawa, and raising awareness in high school and university students, who are often the targets.”
In 2014, PACT released a ground-breaking report titled Project ImPACT, focusing on human trafficking of women and girls in Ottawa. The report revealed that 140 females in Ottawa had been trafficked that year, most of whom were young people. It also showed that 90% of them were Canadian and from the local Ottawa area.
Today, PACT has grown to 30 volunteers, focusing mostly on policy and legislation, including the federal Modern Slavery Act: Bill B-S-216, which had its first reading last October. This Act would require Canadian companies to report on the measures taken to prevent forced labour or child labour at any step in their global supply chain. PACT also successfully lobbied to have February 22 named National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Over the years, PACT has educated truckers – our eyes and ears on the road – on how to identify suspected cases of human trafficking. PACT has raised awareness of the human trafficking implications of overseas organ transplants and worked with Anishinaabe grandmothers to prevent human trafficking in their communities.
They also led the creation of the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking, a group of front-line workers directly supporting victims.
Dr. Kerwin Jones adds that the current pandemic has exacerbated the problem. “Children are online more, where the nefarious dark web is increasingly filled with online sexual predators. Many schools are closed, cutting off important support systems for some of our most vulnerable youth. Meanwhile, essential services connected to protecting trafficked individuals, such as homeless shelters, have been limited.”
According to Dr. Kerwin Jones, the success and influence of PACT-Ottawa over the last 17 years speaks to the power of women’s contributions. “PACT was started by women and motivated by the issues in their lives. It is just one example of the work women do in the volunteer sector and in informal ways to keep our families, our communities, and our country vibrant and alive.”