Women truckers roll out rig showing ‘help me’ hand signals to stop human trafficking

The truck will be driven on the 401 and rural roads between London to Tilbury

Truck drivers from southwestern Ontario are helping to raise awareness about what to do in case someone spots the signs of human trafficking. 

Advocates gathered outside the Ontario Truck Driving School Wednesday morning in London to unveil a rig wrapped in messaging created by the Know Human Trafficking campaign. It will be driven by students around the London, Chatham and Tilbury area so that it’s visible to both urban and rural communities in the region. 

It is the seventh trailer being used for the purpose across Ontario. 

“Human trafficking is on the rise here in Ontario, especially along the 401 corridor,” said Shelley Walker, CEO and founder of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, the organization behind this campaign. “The numbers here in London are very high. So we need to be educated in order to solve it.” 

A veteran truck driver of more than 30 years, Walker said she learned about human trafficking throughout her career and felt there was a lack of consistent messaging available to the public. 

She had the campaign’s first rig wrapped in 2019 and has since been getting other ambassadors on board across the country. 

There are often red flags of human trafficking in rest areas or truck stops, said Walker, and they can be spotted out in the open if people know what to watch for. 

“I think one of the biggest myths is the fact that people believe it’s people in a trailer that are being smuggled across the border,” she said. “We’re talking about domestic sex trafficking, which is on the rise here in Canada. Often people say to me, though, this doesn’t happen, not in my Canada. Yes, it does.” 

Both parents and children should learn the signs

The wrapped truck serves as a “rolling billboard,” informing the public of the hand signals for “please help me,” along with the phone number for the campaign’s hotline and its website. 

Both parents and children should learn the signs of when someone may be being trafficked, said Melissa Wilkins, Coordinator Victim Services with Victim Services of London and Middlesex. 

“Things like if somebody seems in distress, if they don’t know perhaps where they are and they seem like they may be a victim of some sort of abuse,” said Wilkins. 

London Mayor Josh Morgan attended the unveiling on Wednesday, saying that awareness campaigns are critical in the fight to end human trafficking.
London Mayor Josh Morgan attended the unveiling on Wednesday, saying that awareness campaigns are critical in the fight to end human trafficking. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

“If your gut is telling you there might be a concern there, don’t intervene but just call 9-1-1 and indicate that you suspect human trafficking, and note as much as you can in terms of where and what the individuals look like, and share that information with emergency services who can take the lead and offer some support.” 

London’s geographic position and access to highways makes it a centre for human trafficking, sex trafficking and exploitation, said London Mayor Josh Morgan. 

In addition to supporting awareness campaigns, he said he’s confident that incoming chief of police Thai Truong will bring in the necessary expertise from his work in the GTA to tackle the issue. 

In 2020, 65 per cent of Canada’s police-reported human trafficking incidents took place in Ontario, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics.