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Fort Macleod cyclists will ride to end human trafficking, prostitution

Fort Macleod residents will support the battle to end modern day slavery and protect the dignity of every woman.
A bike rally Saturday, Oct. 5 will raise money for the non-profit group Defend Dignity, a group dedicated to ending prostitution in Canada.
“This is an issue that’s really close to my heart,” said Maryanne Vandervalk, who is organizing the ride with Fort Macleod Alliance Church.
Vandervalk went to Laos two years ago with National Women’s Ministry on a project to rescue girls from the street.
“I was just totally shocked at what I discovered,” Vandervalk said. “Human trafficking is world-wide. It’s happening right here in southern Alberta and we’re not even aware of it. That’s how I first became interested in it.”
Girls who are victims of human trafficking often end up working as prostitutes.
Defend Dignity is supporting the Bedard v Canada battle in the Supreme Court against a bill to soften Canada’s prostitution laws.
Defend Dignity is concerned the Supreme Court will strike down three key provisions in the law related to living off the avails, keeping a common bawdy house and communicating for the purposes of prostitution.
Defend Dignity maintains that legalized prostitution will lead to an increase in human trafficking.
“Legalized prostitution will definitely increase human trafficking and organized crime,” Vandervalk said.
Other countries are cracking down on prostitution.
In Amsterdam, for example, half the famed red light district has been shut down because of increased crime.
“It’s big money. If you legalize it then you’re going to bring more people in,” Vandervalk said. “They say it protects the women, but it doesn’t really. It just makes them even more vulnerable.”
“It’s violence and oppression of women,” Vandervalk added. “Even though you legalize it there is always someone who is going to try and control them. And it also pushes a lot of the human trafficking underground.”
Defend Dignity favours Canada following the Nordic model of law based on the recognition that prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation and violence, and penalizes the buying of sex while decriminalizing those who are being sold
There are similar events happening in Lethbridge and other Canadian centres under the title Race for Refuge.
“We felt we wanted to do something a little bit more local,” Vandervalk said.
Vandervalk has an interest in women’s rights and human trafficking, and pastor Ralph Light is an avid cyclist so it seemed a natural fit the Alliance Church would organize the ride.
It is hoped the event will raise awareness about the Supreme Court battle and human trafficking.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Vandervalk said. “The money is nice because we can send it straight to Defend Dignity but the public awareness is crucial.”
The bike rally will consist of routes of 100, 10 and five kilometres, ending at the Vandervalk farm with a barbecue.
The 100-kilometre ride will begin about 8:30 a.m. at the Vandervalk farm, with the other start times staggered in Fort Macleod so all the cyclists finish at about the same time.
The routes are being finalized in co-operation with Alberta Transportation.
Cyclists in the 100-kilometre route will stop at Macleod MP Ted Menzies’ office in Claresholm for a rally to raise awareness.
Pledge sheets are available at the Fort Macleod Alliance Church.
“I’m hoping a lot of the people from the Christian community will come out,” Vandervalk said. “It’s definitely an area where we have to stand up and be advocates.”
“I’m also hopeful anyone with an interest in preventing violence and oppression against women will also come out and take a stand.”
For more information call Maryanne Vandervalk at 403-553-3251.