OTTAWA -- Manitoba Conservative MP Joy Smith has established a foundation to raise money for victims of human trafficking.
Smith launched the Joy Smith Foundation last month at a Toronto event to honour people fighting human trafficking.
"I want to make the public aware," said Smith. The foundation is the first in Canada dedicated to stopping human trafficking. It raises money to help non-governmental organizations working in the area.
"It will supply them with money to help victims," Smith said.
She said too many Canadians still don't understand the scope of the problem. "This whole country is silent," she said. "It's like people think there isn't human trafficking here."
Human trafficking is the modern-day slave trade. Victims are lured away from their homes with promises of a better life or a good job, but are forced into labour or the sex trade. It is estimated 27 million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking at the moment.
Canada is both a destination and source country for victims.
In 2006, human trafficking became a crime in under Canada's Criminal Code in 2006 and a number of prosecutions have taken place since then. One of the most recent cases involved 11 alleged victims between 14 and 19 years old in Vancouver.
A Vancouver man faces 36 charges, including the human trafficking of minors. Another case saw three people in Hamilton arrested and charged with trafficking after allegedly luring victims from Hungary and forcing them into slave labour.
Smith has made the fight against human trafficking the centrepiece of her political career since being elected a Tory MP in 2004.
Smith had to jump through a number of hurdles to get the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to approve the foundation. There are concerns about keeping it separate from political fundraising or partisan activities.
"It's not political," she said. "MPs don't normally do these things. I had twice the checks and balances (as a non MP)."
She said the foundation is run from the basement of her home in Winnipeg.
For more information see www.joysmithfoundation.com .