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The City of Kelowna, Kelowna International Airport (YLW), Kelowna RCMP and Child Advocacy Centre have teamed up with #NotInMyCity to raise awareness about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of youth in the Okanagan.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada, and Kelowna has been identified as a destination within a known human trafficking circuit in Western Canada, where victims as young as 13 years old are being sexually exploited.
“Unfortunately, the Okanagan Valley is not immune to human trafficking,” said Mayor Tom Dyas.
“It is important we work with our partners and come together to raise awareness and provide educational resources for our community as first steps to begin to tackle this distressing issue in our region.”
In Canada, 21% of trafficking victims are under the age of 18, and while making up only 4% of the country’s population, approximately half of Canada’s trafficking victims are Indigenous.
“We have trained our frontline police officers to look for the signs of human trafficking and exploitation, and to ask the questions when things don’t appear as they should,” said Inspector Beth McAndie, the investigative services officer of the Kelowna Regional Detachment.
According to the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, transportation corridors are frequently used by traffickers, and once a victim has been recruited, traffickers will often move them from city to city to maximize profits, access new markets and avoid competition.
Moving them often keeps control of the victim who may not know where they are or how to get help, making it easier for traffickers to evade detection by police.
Victims of labour trafficking may also enter Canada by way of air travel, under the false promise of a job or educational opportunity.
In 2021, YLW partnered with #NotInMyCity to implement a mandatory training program designed specifically for individuals working in aviation, educating employees to identify and respond to signs of human trafficking.
To date, more than 600 employees at YLW have completed this training.
“As BC’s second busiest airport, it is important for us to provide this training to employees working at YLW so we can do our part in recognizing when human trafficking victims pass through our airport and take appropriate action,” said Sam Samaddar, the airport director.
As part of a public awareness campaign, YLW has posted signage in the airport to help victims receive assistance as they pass through Kelowna's airport.
"When it comes to addressing and suppressing human trafficking, awareness and education are a priority,” said Paul Brandt, the founder and CEO of #NotInMyCity.
“An effective response to human trafficking requires collective action from the entire community, and these critical community partners are leading the way by example.”
With the support of the Barry Lapointe Foundation, the Child Advocacy Centre of Kelowna has partnered with #NotInMyCity to bring a custom free e-learning course to Okanagan residents.
“The most powerful way to make a difference in this space is to build a strong, informed and vigilant community,” said Ginny Becker, the executive director of the Child Advocacy Centre.
“We have formed this partnership to bring that opportunity for learning into the community.”
Anyone can call the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 if they believe they witness or are experiencing human trafficking or sexual exploitation.
Those requiring support can contact the Kelowna police services non-emergency line at (250) 762-3300.
If anyone is in immediate danger, it is recommended to call 9-1-1.
More information about #NotInMyCity can be found here.