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Crying freedom

Slavery has a much different face than it did 200 years ago, but human trafficking still exists and the damage it does is just as devastating, says Langley’s Tara Teng, Miss Canada 2011.

Today, an estimated 27 million people live in forced captivity whether they have been sold into the sex trade, or  labour for little no money in appalling working conditions.

The abolition of this modern day form of slavery was Teng’s platform in her bid for the title of Miss Canada, and since she was crowned in January, her efforts have redoubled, culminating next week in a series of activities intended to draw attention to the issue.

March 6 to 13 is Freedom Week, with events planned in Langley, Surrey and Coquitlam.

On Saturday, March 12, Teng, and event co-organizer Todd Hauptman, will lead a Freedom March through downtown Langley City.

“(Abolition) has been on my heart for a number of years,” Teng said. “I’m dedicated to it personally.”

It is appalling, she said, to consider that girls as young as 12 years old are being bought and sold as sex slaves.

“People would be outraged to know it’s happening (here),” she said, noting a number of micro-brothels have been discovered throughout the Lower Mainland.

“It’s not visible, but it’s everywhere,” she said.

“I think people are not a commodity, to be bought and sold. If I was in that situation, I would want someone to speak up for me,” she said.

Creating public awareness of the problem is a crucial first step, Teng believes.

“We want to educate the public. There are lots of events happening in the Fraser Valley area.”

Along with the March 12 walk, there will be a gathering in Douglas Park, where participants will hear some startling facts about modern-day slavery, both in Canada and abroad, Teng said.

Scheduled to speak from a local perspective, is Langley City mayor Peter Fassbender, MP Mark Warawa is expected to offer a national viewpoint and Jamie McIntosh, executive director of International Justice Mission Canada, to speak from a global perspective.

“A lot of Canadians and Langley residents would be surprised, but hopefully moved into action as well,” said Teng.

Teng’s co-organizer, Hauptman is completing a degree in political science and communications at UFV and has been politically active since his teens. Still, until a few years ago, the 24-year-old had no idea that modern day slavery existed in Canada.

“I thought, if I don’t know, what about other people who don’t pay attention?”

“This is the human rights issue of our time,” he said.

Hauptman happened upon the subject while reading an article about Joy Smith, an MP from Manitoba, and her efforts to introduce anti-slavery legislation in the House of Commons. The story piqued Hauptman’s curiosity and he began digging.

“The more I found out — the fact this injustice existed in my world and, more than likely, my own backyard — it forced me to do something about it,” he said.

He traveled to Ottawa in the spring of 2009 to speak to a number of MPs and urge them to support Smith’s legislation.

Not every gesture needs to be as grand, said Hauptman.

Helping could be as simple as signing a petition or supporting fundraisers for organizations that fight slavery, he suggested.

Attending a Freedom Week event is another step. Among the activities taking place will be a  March 6 prayer service in Coquitlam and a dance performance at Chandos Pattison auditorium on March 10.

The next day, Limbo, a play about human trafficking, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. at Christian Life Assembly.

The main event will be the Freedom March and rally in Langley City on Saturday, March 12.

Based on the feedback she’s received, Teng expects to see as many as 2,000 people turn out.

“The beauty is it’s people of all ages, from all walks of life, banding together,” said Teng.

“We’re standing together and saying, ‘This injustice cannot happen any longer.’”

Freedom March registration begins in Douglas Park at 9:30 a.m., with the walk leaving at 11 a.m.

All Freedom Week events are free, but donations will be collected to benefit agencies fighting human trafficking. For more information, go to Facebook and search “Freedom Week: A week to end slavery” or on Twitter as @freedomweek2011.

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