“Every day we have a chance to change the world”. – Shae Invidiata
When Martin Luther King spoke his famous words, “I have a Dream”, many civilians imagined a world decades later where all persons lived with the basic essentials of liberty, peace, and justice. We imagined a world where despite race, sex, or religious belief, each human was afforded the basic right to freedom and equality. Decades later, [free-them], one of Canada’s leading anti-slavery organizations is continuing the fight for justice, raising dollars and awareness to fight human trafficking with its fourth annual Freedom Walk in Toronto.
“The Freedom Walk is a declaration for justice and a voice for the silenced,” says Shae Invidiata, founder, [free-them]. “Presented by the Fairmont Royal York and hosted by OMNI Television’s Veronica Chail, it’s an opportunity for people from all over Ontario to come together and demonstrate that slavery and human trafficking will not be tolerated in our Nation; that in Canada we will not tolerate people being bought, sold, or exploited.
This September, hundreds of people (dubbed Freedom Fighters by the [free-them] team) will gather at the Fairmont Royal York located in downtown Toronto and participate in the annual four-kilometre walk. In its fourth year, the Freedom Walk has grown from an initiative of 15 people to over 500 walkers of all ages that ends on the steps at City Hall.
“People are shocked that human trafficking exists, and then they are even more shocked when they learn that slavery exists right here in Canada, with the two most prevalent forms being forced labour and sexual exploitation,” comments Invidiata. “The average age of entry in Canada is just thirteen years old, which means that to get an average that low, you need to have many kids under the age of thirteen who are being forced into a life of exploitation – children aged nine, ten and eleven years old.”
This is the purpose of the [free-them] Freedom Walk, to make Canadians aware of this horrific reality, and at the same time enable Canadians to get involved and do something to see human trafficking eradicated. Among those walking last year was Canada’s leading politician in the area of human trafficking, MP Joy Smith.
“Our generation has the opportunity to end this horrific crime of human trafficking. Each person that joins the movement against modern slavery makes a permanent impact. You can be that person,” comments MP Joy Smith. “From young girls taken from the streets of Montreal and sold abroad, to the vulnerable children seduced on our First Nation reserves, it is a crime that reaches all elements of our society. Human trafficking must be stopped.”
Other notable attendees at last year’s walk included Timea E. Nagy, an author, speaker, and survivor of human trafficking and Constable Lepa Jankovic, one of the two RCMP officers who brought down Canada’s largest human trafficking ring to go before Canadian courts. Last year’s walk also raised $30,000 for victims of human trafficking in Canada and was featured on major news programs across the country.
“Awareness is the first step to ending slavery nationwide,” comments Invidiata. “You cannot fight something that you are not aware exists. The more Canada learns about human trafficking, the more support we receive when working with federal, provincial, and municipal governments to create action proposals, by-laws, legislative bills, national strategies, and tactics to help end an injustice so rampant in our own backyard”.
Faced with such a serious topic, the team at [free-them] is committed to educating students and families early. Among the attendees are children, seniors, and even babies alongside their parents. The ages and participants are diverse but unanimous in their message. Leading walkers since 2011 with his chant, 12 year old Christopher Cardenas-Avila shouts “Kids are not for sale. Set them free,” as many supporters chime in and hold handmade signs that say, “I’m not for sale.”
“I want to educate my children on the issue and the Freedom Walk is a great way to do so,” says Sheila Cardenas-Avila, Executive Committee Event Coordinator for [free-them]. “My son needs to learn what to do if anyone approaches him or one of his friends.”
As the presenting sponsor for the fourth annual Freedom Walk, The Fairmont Royal York plays a key role by providing a home base for the walk’s Freedom Fighters. Participants start the motivating morning on the convention floor of the Fairmont Royal York with an honorary ceremony, performances, and keynote addresses from some of Canada’s leading voices and change makers in the fight against human trafficking.
“The team at the Fairmont is committed to giving back to the community and is thrilled to support the [free-them] Freedom Walk for a second year,” Says Kerry Ann Kotani, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing, Fairmont Royal York. Returning in a larger capacity for the 2013 [free-them] Freedom Walk is OMNI Television’s, Veronica Chail. As a [free-them] ambassador, Veronica will be the official host for this year’s walk and will provide support through OMNI Television and City TV, this year’s official media sponsors. “Human trafficking is the worst kind of depravity imaginable, as it impacts the most vulnerable in our society,” says Veronica. “[free-them] has done amazing work to inspire change, and I am proud to support the organization’s annual Freedom Walk, along with OMNI Television and City TV.”
The team at [free-them] is knee deep in preparation to make the 2013 walk even larger than in previous years. This year’s program includes speakers from RCMP law enforcement, government officials, and survivors. Other onsite activities include a fair-trade, slave-free vendor area to support initiatives that donate proceeds to victims, a kids zone with activities for youth, a media lounge for private interviews, and notable walkers and participants.
The 4th Annual Freedom Walk presented by the Fairmont Royal York and hosted by OMNI Television’s Veronica Chail takes place on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel located at 100 Front Street West. Registration is $12 per person (children under 18 are free) and families are welcome. Breakfast is provided. For more information or to register to walk, please log on to www.freethemwalk.ca.
WORDS: MEG SETHI
PHOTOS: ALEX BROWNE
PICTURED HERE: SHAE INVIDIATA
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