Over 300 law enforcement members and airport staff have now gone through a new specialized training program at Edmonton International Airport aimed at helping to combat human trafficking, according to the RCMP.
The RCMP said the program was launched in January with a goal of having 200 people trained by April, a number that has not only already been surpassed, but continues to grow.
“Trafficking and exploitation are criminal violations of human rights that often target the most vulnerable in our communities,” Const. Kristin Appleton with the missing persons unit of the Alberta RCMP’s serious crimes branch said in a news release. “Human trafficking is a widespread issue across Canada — Alberta being no exception.
“The Alberta RCMP is pleased to partner with ACT Alberta in collaboration with the Edmonton International Airport to address this serious crime type.”
The new program is designed to teach both law enforcement officers and airport staff to recognize human-trafficking activity and then to be able to address it when they see signs of it.
Appleton said among those signs are passengers on flights with vague travel details, travellers with no identification or with identification “being controlled by somebody they are with.”
“(It could be) controlling companions that don’t seem to be a friend or a relative of the person, but they seem to be with them and controlling their movement,” she added.
The Criminal Code defines human trafficking as an activity that involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purpose of exploitation. It can also involve someone controlling another person’s movement.
“Due to its transient nature, trafficking often moves and extends beyond provincial borders or boundaries,” the RCMP said. “This is why it is critical that human-trafficking awareness training be provided to front-line members and staff at one of Alberta’s largest ports of entry.”
Elizabeth Dwernychuk, a spokesperson for EIA, said the airport is pleased to be able to take part in and support the initiative.
“We want to make sure that we’re creating a safe place to be at our airport and really helping to stop this and to protect people,” she said.
In 2018, a similar initiative got underway at the Calgary International Airport. Jessica Brandon of the Action Coalition on Trafficking Alberta said that program produced results very quickly.
“We had upwards of 20 cases reported and referred within the next few months,” she said. “So that was a really big tell for us that we’re on the right path.”
By the end of April, the program is now aimed at having about 500 people trained at EIA.
“Traffickers look for vulnerable people,” Appleton said. “We have victims as young as 12 years old being groomed and recruited into the sex trade. And then of course with labour trafficking, it’s happening because we bring in a lot of temporary foreign workers into our province.
“So it is so important for us to look for those vulnerable people and help out in any way we can.”
–With files from Global News’ Sarah Komadina