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Slavery in Canada
Reducing a person to an economic commodity violates the core Judeo-Christian affirmation of the dignity of being made in the image of God.

Few of us can imagine being human and being trafficked: finding ourselves powerless and treated as objects, perhaps with our legal identities stolen, traded and used by others for mere economic gain.

The basic shared principles of Canadian society...reject outright the commodification of human life.

This modern-day form of slavery is difficult to comprehend but there are many people who have been taken or lured into a vortex of promises for a better life only to find abuse, intimidation, bullying and despair. And let’s not understand this issue blindly: it is most often male violence against, and the exploitation of women and children. It is hideous and an abomination in the sight of God, the Father of us all.

Reducing a person to an economic commodity violates the core Judeo-Christian affirmation of the dignity of being made in the image of God. Evangelicals agree with many others that human dignity is grounded in the belief that God created us in His image. Our worth is not contingent – rather it is inviolable, ours by virtue of being created and loved by God. Our response is to affirm the dignity of all, to respect others as image-bearers of God and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

It was the repugnance of commodifying life that prompted the federal government to ban surrogacy and the sale of human gametes and human embryos. In its report to Parliament, the Standing Committee on Health (reviewing draft legislation on assisted human reproduction) wrote:

It is contrary to our thinking to treat human beings or human material as commodities that can be regarded in terms of their economic value rather than their intrinsic worth. In particular, we feel that children can never be objects to be acquired or exchanged. Women and men need to know that their bodies and their reproductive material are not for sale or barter. The Committee does not support any elements of trading, exchanging, buying or selling of human reproductive materials ... We want to ensure that the legislation will prevent the commodification of children, women’s bodies, human reproductive material, and reproduction.

Societal norms are reflected in our common understandings and practices and in our laws and public policies. Section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms our right to life, liberty and security of the person. These rights cannot be denied if doing so would breach “principles of fundamental justice.” These principles are not listed nor are they defined. They are, however, those norms that undergird our life together, those principles upon which we have found consensus. They are the building blocks of our common life together.

The basic shared principles of Canadian society then – and not only our Christian world view – reject outright the commodification of human life. That something is “contrary to our thinking” and absolutely rejected is evidence that the principle at issue is a societal norm: a commonly accepted standard that frames our ethics and public standards.

The kind of problem that often follows is how to recognize, apply and enforce this societal norm. Our rejection of the commodification of the human person surfaces in a variety of ways in Canadian legislation – from laws governing prostitution to laws that prohibit the patenting of human life. It’s time we give equal attention to human trafficking in our own backyard and around the world.

The tragic stories of human trafficking require a response.

Part of our response includes looking at our laws and practices and ensuring that we have the appropriate legal protections in place to ensure Canadian identity continues to include intrinsic respect of the dignity of all persons.

At The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we will continue to uphold and defend this inviolable right applied across all stages of life – from conception through childhood, youth, adulthood and old age – for all are made in the image of God. This inviolable right must not only be recognized in Canadian law but also applied and enforced for the protection of the most vulnerable people.

Human trafficking demands a principled and right response.

Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. 

Related articles

Objectifying People
Human Trafficking: Tragedy and Hope

Originally published in Faith Today, November/December 2009.

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