Over twenty years ago, Joy Smith’s son Edward Riglin brought the issue of human trafficking to Joy’s attention.
Edward, a police officer, was serving in the Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit. The purpose of the ICE Unit was to track down predators who had used the Internet to lure in and sexually exploit children for profit.
Joy was a teacher at that time. Edward’s hair had turned grey overnight, and seeing the changes in her son, Joy was compelled to ask him what was happening. She found out that he had become very involved in finding and rescuing these young victims. Edward’s concern and heartbreak over the plight of these victims was the catalyst that eventually led to Canada’s laws against human traffickers.
Ever the Teacher, Joy began giving seminars on "How to Protect Your Child from Internet Predators.” The seminars were well attended and to her surprise, young victims started coming up and showing her their tattoos – these tattoos indicated to whom they belonged. Joy was moved to action by hearing their stories.
Joy then became aware that there were no laws in Canada to protect these victims, nor to bring their perpetrators to justice, nor to hold to account those who purchase the sexual services of trafficked women and girls. This began her journey to change professions and enter the world of politics.
In 2004, Joy Smith entered politics in order to make change and to give a voice to the vulnerable young victims of this horrific crime. Joy brought the knowledge and expertise she had gained over the years from working closely with survivors and rescuing many victims to Parliament Hill. Joy championed the human trafficking issue during her eleven years as an MP and worked to make her colleagues at the highest levels of government aware of what was happening to Canadian youth everyday.
Joy made Canadian history as the first sitting MP to amend the Criminal Code twice, both times to better protect victims of human trafficking. In 2010, Bill C-268 was passed, enshrining mandatory minimum sentencing for traffickers of children 18 years and younger in Canada’s Criminal Code. Then in 2012, Bill C-310 was passed – receiving unanimous consent – reaching the long arm of the Canadian law into other countries where Canadian citizens or permanent residents traffic or exploit others abroad. After the historic passage of her Bills, Joy developed Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.
By this time, Joy had become acutely aware that more work needed to be done on the ground in order for her new laws to be enforced and effective. Many police officers, judges, social workers and teachers were not trained, let alone aware of the issue. Raising awareness, alongside increased support for victims, was therefore necessary to supplement the changes she had made through policy and legislation, and to prevent human trafficking from happening in the first place. The Foundation grew out of this need.
The Joy Smith Foundation Inc. was launched on October 27, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. Within just three months, the Foundation presented its first cheque to a registered non-governmental organization focused on rehabilitating victims of human trafficking.
Joy retired from Parliament in 2015 to volunteer full-time for her Foundation. Since its establishment, the Foundation has evolved from its focus on providing funds to shelter organizations, to a focus on prevention and awareness programs.
In 2016, Joy travelled from coast to coast filming an educational documentary to tell Canada’s authentic story of human trafficking. She interviewed the experts with whom she had worked for over a decade – directors of leading NGOs, police officers, survivors, and others. The documentary "Human Trafficking: Canada’s Secret Shame” is the culmination of the Joy Smith Foundation’s efforts to educate the Canadian public on human trafficking.
It remains that there are not enough social workers, police officers or NGOs to suppress the human trafficking that is happening everyday – the best strategy is prevention through education. Today, the focus of the Joy Smith Foundation is on education, to make students, teachers and parents aware of what human trafficking looks like here in Canada.
The Foundation has grown to have an arm in Alberta, BC and Ontario. The Foundation’s corporate headquarters are in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Joy Smith’s journey, and the history behind her Foundation, is testimony that one person can make a difference and change the course of history.
Joy wants Canadians to know that by working together as a nation – fostering partnerships between all sectors of society – we can put an end to this injustice in Canada. Joy firmly believes that it will take a whole nation coming together, and her life’s work and her Foundation is dedicated toward this end.