Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Dark side of a boomtown

April 17 and 18 will see Prince Rupert host a two day conference on the downside of sudden growth and economic change, as The Children of the Street Society, a group of youth facilitators who perform interactive skits will provide a glimpse of how a change in the local dynamic could have a negative impact on the youth of our community.

In Friday’s paper, The Daily News provided a bit of background on the group and what they hope to achieve when they visit the city in the spring.

Conference called to talk about downside of a boom
By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Friday, December 22, 2006
Page one

A two-day conference in the spring is set to explore some of the social problems that may result from Prince Rupert’s rapid economic expansion.

Scheduled for April 17-18, the widely supported initiative will examine the potential for an increase in human trafficking and sexual exploitation alongside the container port development.
“This is not to bash the container port, I was born and raised in Prince Rupert and we certainly need this,” said Marlene Swift, North Coast Victim Support Services. “But from my experience at Victim’s Services, the one thing I do know is when the victim file lands on my desk the question they ask is ‘why didn’t somebody do something before it happened to me?’, ‘Why didn’t somebody tell me this could happen?’

“Our purpose is to be proactive, to ensure (communities) ... are in good hands should something occur.”

The two-day conference is likely to be spilt-up, with one day being focused at youth from Grade 6-12 and the other being directed at parents and caregivers. The Children of the Street Society, a group of youth facilitators who perform interactive skits, have agreed to come up from the Lower Mainland to give parents the information they need to prevent their children from being victimized by human traffickers and to give youth the ability to recognize when someone is trying to lure them into the sex trade.

“We’re already dealing with sexual exploitation of youth in this city,” said Metlakatla’s Brenda Leighton, referencing the practice of girls being taken out to ships in the harbour to perform sexual acts. “You just have to go to the docks and open your eyes.”

Police estimate some 16,000 people — mostly women and children although young boys as well — are trafficked through Canada on a yearly basis. First Nations people from the rural north are particularly susceptible to being trafficked to urban centres in the south according to the 2006 report Release The Captives.

“It’s a huge issue, there’s just so much money involved and that’s where organized crime steps in,” said Dave Uppal, RCMP Border Integrity Program. “It doesn’t matter to them what they’re dealing with ... their just looking at the dollar value of it to fund their organization.”

“Is it going to happen up here? We really don’t know but we did have the migrant ships coming in for awhile — it is a possibility. Projects like this definitely help us in dealing with the problem and getting the awareness out. A lot of people still don’t really know about this,” said Uppal.
The steering committee includes representatives from Hartley Bay, Metlakatla, Kitkatla, the City of Prince Rupert, RCMP, School District 52, Salvation Army, North Coast Transition Society, North Coast Victim Support Services, Prince Rupert Port Authority, Friendship House and a number of provincial agencies.

“Maybe we can’t eliminate (human trafficking), but we can maybe bring it to its knees,” said Capt. Nancy Sheils, Salvation Army.

“If we all put an effort into this we can make a difference not just in our community but also in our country and worldwide.”

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