Human trafficking is one of those vile issues that many tend to associate with countries elsewhere, far away. But it’s a major problem right here at home, even in downtown Toronto.

On July 14, local organization HART (Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team) is hosting their inaugural HARTCycle to #StopTraffick. This is a one-day, fully supported bike ride in Muskoka to raise awareness and funds to provide critically needed services for young female survivors of sex trafficking. These services include immediate access to safe housing, emergency crisis care and long-term support.

We interviewed HART co-founder Ashley Wade about why she started the organization, the stark reality of Canada’s sex trafficking industry, and what she’s learned since launching HART last year.

SDTC: Can you briefly share with us how you first became involved in supporting survivors of sex trafficking and the reason for founding HART?

AW: It was sparked by the stark realization that human trafficking is everywhere. I couldn’t believe this was happening in my own backyard–I had a wonderful experience growing up in York Region. Even more shocking was that no one was talking about it.  When I first met Gillian from Victim Services of York Region, I was intrigued by what they do, who they are, and how they help. When I heard some of the tragic stories–especially the ones that involved human trafficking–I was shaken.

I met with Kelly Grier and shared what I had been told. Together, we founded HART. It’s not fair to pull survivors out of their situation and not give them a safe place to go.

What message do you most want to relay to Canadians about sex trafficking?

This is happening to local kids. Ninety-four per cent of human trafficking victims are Canadian-born, and fifty per cent of those are children. We need to be aware. We need to help. We need to stop trafficking.

What message do you most want to share with survivors?

First and foremost: they are not alone. There are people that care and want to help. 

What has been a major lesson or discovery–personal or otherwise–since founding HART last year?

My involvement has pulled me out of my bubble and given me new purpose, new appreciation, and new responsibility. I look at my children and realize how incredibly lucky we are. I have a deep appreciation for their safety, and I will continue to fight for those not as fortunate…

What keeps you motivated daily?

My family. I have four children with my husband, Marc. As a unit, we have the ability to help. I tell people all the time about the realities of human trafficking (I swear I’m fun at parties) and most simply don’t know it’s happening here. The more awareness that surrounds the topic, the more help there will be. We have to educate kids, parents and schools. I don’t want this to be a buried issue for my grandchildren.

How has your life most significantly changed since you launched this?

I’ve come to the realization that we have not just an opportunity to help but an obligation, and when you assemble a great team, you can move mountains. I have been fortunate enough to work alongside an incredible team at HART. Kelly Grier, Tamara Bahry, Carol Wildgoose and Debbie McGrath have dedicated their time and energy to aiding survivors.

What excites you about HARTCycle? And what are the various ways people can get involved?

The HARTCycle to #StopTraffick on July 14 is a one-day ride to raise awareness and the funds necessary to provide critically needed services for survivors. These services include immediate access to safe housing, emergency crisis care and long-term support.

Up to 100 cyclists will experience the beautiful Muskoka roads in a group ride format alongside group marshals and support vehicles. This fully supported ride includes three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Marnie McBean and Fraser Chapman, champion of the cause, who will both ride alongside participants. HARTCycle is going to be a great event! Learn, register and support here.

Anything else you’d like to share?

There is a humanitarian crisis happening in 2018. We read about international atrocities on a daily basis: horror stories of family separations, mass violence and inhumane situations. We also see how people spring into action in such times of crisis and raise their voices, pledge their money, and dedicate their energy.

As Canadians, I think most of us feel we are immune–we’re not. Even scarier, our children are not. Awareness and education are critical to progress and prevention. We need this topic trending. 

If you’re up in Muskoka at this time and love to ride for an important cause, you can join 100 cyclists for a group ride and choose either a 25k or 70k ride. Make a donation here.