Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Compassion into action

Smith's painful history drove her to fight exploitation

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Over the last three years, Winnipeg MP Joy Smith has accomplished something unique in the Canadian House of Commons.

After an up-Parliament-Hill battle that took years to win, she convinced her colleagues in the Commons to pass her two private member's bills.

One would have been a rarity.

But what made the coup historic was the two bills changed Canada's criminal law; both of them aimed at combating human trafficking, and especially the sex-slave industry,

It was an accomplishment made even more astounding given Joy Smith is a member of a law-and-order-fixated Stephen Harper government that, at least initially, was unsupportive of her mission.

As were many Commons colleagues, including female members on the status of women committee, who, she says, laughed and told her there was no human trafficking in Canada.

Then, last year, a year after the second bill passed, she created the Joy Smith Foundation, a registered charity devoted to helping support and rehabilitate the victims of human trafficking.

When she speaks about what inspired her one-woman crusade, the 66-year-old always refers to her son, the RCMP officer. And specifically how, more than a decade ago, she watched as the young Mountie's hair turned grey, seemingly overnight, as a member of the Integrated Child Exploitation unit.

He eventually shared with her about what was going on in communities and to girls from so-called good homes across Canada.

That prompted Smith to go on rescue missions of her own, from big-city alleys to Prairie farmhouses, and on trips as far away as Ukraine and Israel.

But her devotion and passion for rescuing the vulnerable go back even further.

So, this week over coffee at the Free Press News Café, I went looking for where it really started.

She grew up on a farm, if you could call it that, close to the International Peace Garden.

Her father struggled with a war-time injury, and they all struggled just to grow enough food and pluck enough chickens to eat.

Joy was the second of six.

"We grew up extremely poor, dirt-poor," she recalls.

The tattered, homemade and patched clothing they wore to school made them the targets of bullies.

She remembers one incident when her younger brother was being beaten by a gang of boys, and desperately wanting to help him. But she was scared.

She and her older sister, Mae, were like mothers to their younger siblings, even as 12- and 14-year-olds, when their devoted mother had to devote herself to caring for her hospitalized husband.

By the time Joy was 17, her 49-year-old mother died. By 18, she was married. She had four children, the youngest a baby, the oldest 12, when she left her husband.

For the next seven years, she taught music lessons to support her children and earned two degrees, including a master of education.

To help care for her children, Joy found a nanny, a young woman she found on a Hutterite colony who wanted to run away.

Joy gave her a place to run to.

She would go on to marry Bart Smith and teach for 23 years before going into politics.

But there's something else she said that suggested why she started the Joy Smith Foundation.

Back in 2000, when her son's hair was turning grey, Joy was holding free seminars where she told parents about the dangers their children faced from Internet predators.

That led to her learning about the whereabouts of a 14-year-old Winnipeg runaway. Joy and a girlfriend drove to a farmhouse in Saskatchewan and boldly rescued the girl from a locked room in a basement, where the child was being forced to service men.

Joy returned the child to her parents, but then the girl ran away again.

"I don't know where she is now," Joy said.

The lesson she learned? Rescuing isn't enough. They need support.

And that's why, last year, she started the Joy Smith Foundation.

On Thursday, she's holding a fundraising dinner at the Fort Garry Hotel for the foundation.

If you would care to join her -- or join her cause -- visit the Joy Smith Foundation website. Tickets are available there. So is more information about why she continues to do what she does.

A pervasive, painful

issue in society

Sex trafficking by the numbers

Every 60 seconds, two children somewhere in the world are sold into sex slavery.

Globally, 1.2 million children are trafficked annually for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

In Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) estimates domestic sex traffickers earn an average of $228,000 annually from each victim under their control.

In North America, the average age of entry into the sex trade is 12 to 14.

The foundation's mission statement

The Joy Smith Foundation works to ensure that every Canadian man, woman and child is safe from manipulation, force, or abuse of power designed to lure and exploit them into the sex trade or forced labour. This is achieved through educating the public, and providing funds and support to front-line organizations that rescue and rehabilitate victims.


-- source: Joy Smith Foundation

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 B1


Updated on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:51 PM CDT: fixes photo

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