Vancouver-based Indigenous artists Dakota Bear and Casey Desjarlais have begun a campaign to stop human trafficking following an alleged incident in Prince Albert.
According to the Prince Albert Daily Herald, a man claims he took a taxi and woke up in a locked room where he heard little girls screaming, but he was able to escape.
A video posted to Facebook shows the man knocking on doors and calling for help. The man was unavailable for comment. Police say an investigation is ongoing, but no arrests have been made.
“The police, some of the first questions, will say ‘Well how much did you have to drink? Why were you out at this time? What kind of drugs were you taking?’” said Bear. “So you see these kind of responses aren’t really helping and are making this problem get driven underground.”
Bear and Desjarlais’ brand new project, Protect Our People, has an online campaign and a street effort – posters, flyers and stickers being posted across 14 Canadian cities during a 12-hour period March 24.
“We started the movement just focusing on Saskatchewan,” said Desjarlais. “But then we realized with the amount of support and stories coming in from all over Canada that it wasn’t just isolated to Saskatchewan but it was definitely a Canada-wide problem. And it’s bigger than we ever imagined.”
Bear and Desjarlais are from Saskatoon.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes against First Nations people,” said Bear. “I think racism is very deeply embedded in Saskatchewan. There’s a long history of oppression but also the RCMP, the police, the way that they’ve kind of abused First Nations people and the prejudice that lies within there.”
Protect Our People received funding from TakingItGlobal, a non-profit in Toronto focused on helping youth overcome global challenges. But Bear and Desjarlais’ campaign has been far from easy.
“I’ve also gotten backlash,” said Bear. “With people saying ‘No, no, your people are all drunks; those are false accusations. Your people are drug users. You people don’t know what’s going on.’ I’ve had someone comment that our women deserve to be raped, our women deserve to be violated, and it’s good that they’re finding our women in rivers.
“The Tina Fontaine case and the Colten Boushie case, there was a lot of blaming going on for the victims … When [Fontaine’s] killer walked away free, that sent a message that Indigenous lives, you can take those young Indigenous lives and get away with it.”
Protect Our People aims for human trafficking patrols in Canadian cities working alongside law enforcement.
“The relationship between specifically Indigenous people and the police, it’s not a good relationship,” said Desjarlais. “We have a history that really does affect our relationship today. But the message to the police is to listen to us. To listen to the grassroots people, to listen to the victims, who bring forth their experiences but then get discredited or get arrested.”
Human Trafficking became a criminal offence in Canada in 2005. RCMP assistant commissioner Joanne Crampton testified at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that 455 charges were laid between 2005 and 2017, but many more offences go unreported.
“I think the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls movement is linked to the human trafficking … They prey upon the people that are most vulnerable … They’re preying upon the ones that they don’t think will have a big splash in the media if they go missing.”
Protect Our People has launched a petition to the Canadian government.
“This specific petition that we have is to urge all healthcare professionals to receive mandatory training on how to identify victims and then also the protocols to help them get to safety,” said Desjarlais.