A national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women must deal with the trafficking of indigenous women on ships from Thunder Bay, Ont., says the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.
Dawn Lavell Harvard said she wasn't surprised when concerns about women disappearing on ships in Lake Superior arose at a pre-inquiry consultation meeting with federal ministers in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.
CBC News first reported on research that First Nations women were being sold into the sex trade on U.S. ships in Lake Superior in 2013.
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"We know this is going on, we know women who have experienced it, we have met them firsthand," said Lavell Harvard. "So we're hoping that, number one, this reality will be validated" by the inquiry.
In 2013, Bridget Perrier told CBC News about her experiences as a 12-year-old victim of child prostitution on a ship in Thunder Bay harbour. Perrier went on to co-found SexTrade 101, a Toronto-based support and advocacy group for survivors of the sex trade.
Lavell Harvard said for too many years reports of indigenous women being prostituted on ships have been dismissed by police as "urban myth" in Thunder Bay.
"So once it's acknowledged and recognized then we can begin to look at what we can do to stop this," she said.
"Obviously addressing this is going to require some international cross-border cooperation because girls are going back and forth — a convenient means of being able to escape detection when you're looking at trafficking," Lavell Harvard added.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said more than one family at the consultation meetings in Thunder Bay asked for assurances the inquiry would deal with cross-border issues because they've had a relative disappear on a ship.
Bennett said it's part of a quagmire of interjurisdictional issues that indigenous people face every day and that the inquiry will consider.