Manitoba must update exploitation protections
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We mourn the tragic loss of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran and Buffalo Woman, rising amidst calls for action and a national state of emergency for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and LGBTTQ+ people.
Indigenous nations across the county are enraged at the lack of response by all levels of government. I mourn with the children, grandchildren and families who are left behind to deal with this tragic legacy, and the ongoing colonial assault on Indigenous women and girls.
Regardless of the circumstances of these lives that were tragically taken, they were mothers, grandmothers and sisters, tied to communities who love them.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the 2002 launch of Manitoba’s action plan on child exploitation, Canada’s first provincial strategy to prevent sexual exploitation.
Since Dec. 10, 2008, the strategy has been known as Tracia’s Trust, in honour of Tracia Owen, who died by suicide in 2005 at the age of 14 after she was sexually exploited. While the strategy is now 20 years old, it needs urgent updates and action.
A 2019 research project intended to inform this strategy and contribute toward the government’s child-welfare agenda urges government to evaluate and enhance the strategy by pivoting toward the current evidence around child exploitation.
Among the key findings in the 2019 report is that Manitoba needs a robust counter-exploitation and sex-trafficking online strategy, an adult-focused approach that includes provisions for youth who turn 18, and a substance-abuse strategy specific to the methamphetamine treatment crisis for this population.
The report also calls for the reform of current specialized placements and resources.
As Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, it is my legislated responsibility to raise awareness and understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), including Article 6, which states that children have the right to live and thrive, and Articles 34 and 35, which state governments must protect children from sexual abuse and human trafficking.
Through the lens of the UNCRC, we are failing Manitoba’s children by failing to update this strategy and put more resources behind it. Across our province, young people, along with lived-experience leaders, elders, knowledge keepers and social-justice advocates, are also calling for action, justice, healing and substantive change.
My office has been calling for this for years, including through recommendations issued to the provincial government in our special reports, such as In Need of Protection: Angel’s Story (2018) and A Place Where It Feels Like Home: The Story of Tina Fontaine (2019).
In spite of these reports, recommendations issued and the individual and ongoing advocacy my office is doing, children and youth in our province continue to be sexually exploited, harmed and killed as part of the MMIWG crisis.
As Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, I will be reaching out to the government to meet as soon as possible, calling for a plan to end this crisis.
While I am aware of the commitment in the government’s speech from the throne to increase funding that targets child exploitation and to release a progress report regarding the government’s gender-based violence framework in the coming months, more action on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ 231 Calls for Justice is needed now.
The young people my office is honoured to serve and learn from on a daily basis understand sexual exploitation and the MMIWG crisis threaten both their future and our collective human rights. They are ready and waiting for governments and Manitobans to take action to end this horrific abuse, collectively saying “no more.” It’s time to listen to them.
Sherry Gott is the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (MACY), an independent officer of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. To learn more about MACY, visit manitobaadvocate.ca