TEDxToronto 2019: Casandra Diamond, Founder and Director of BridgeNorth

Casandra is the founding director of BridgeNorth, a survivor-led charitable organization that provides programs to assist victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Her work includes investing in public education, awareness, and advocacy at all levels of government including supporting Bill C-36 which is now law as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

(To see Casandra live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

What was your first “million-dollar idea”?
When I was in Grade 1, I was confronted with a situation whereby a child with a visible handicap was being repeatedly bullied by three Grade 3 girls day after day. I mustered up the courage to confront these girls, and whether it was adrenaline or dumb luck, I was able to provide them with, shall we say, a physical taste of their medicine. I was later admonished by my dad for fighting, but with the knowledge that I fought to right an injustice, the admonishment came with a wink and a nod. Wouldn’t it be worth a million dollars if each and every one of us could see value in one another other, regardless of any perceived limitations?

What’s the wildest idea you had to sell somebody on? How did you do it?
While this idea may not be best defined as wild, it’s certainly challenging. When a woman moves up the ranks in a sex trafficking ring she can be seen as a villain for her role in exploiting other women. In fact, she is surviving, having been groomed by her trafficker and having little choice in the role she plays. Helping others understand the complexity of the trafficking hierarchy and the fact that outside this environment a woman would not behave this way allows me to ‘sell,’ or better said, convey the nuances of this concept.

Name a big idea in your lifetime that you can’t believe never took off?
Everyone loves puppies right!! Of course they do! So why is it impossible to get a ‘puppy petting zoo’ going. You could come in and pet the puppy of your choice, take them for a walk and as they grow up, decide which puppy you take home. Sure there could be conflicts in puppy selection but with good management, puppies would be more successfully placed in long-term homes and a new spot is now available for a new puppy at the ‘puppy petting zoo.’ Honestly, having a tough day—try some puppy medicine!

Name one thing, as a society, we aren’t spending enough time thinking about?
As a society we are not properly recognizing that sex trafficking is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.  As a matter of fact, men, not women, are buying women. Additionally, traffickers who are predominantly men and unfortunately tend to be disproportionately represented by societally marginalized groups are not provided with opportunities where they can be gainfully employed and properly diverted out of gangs.  A good first step in resolving this societal issue is to firstly ask ourselves, am I contributing to this issue, and if not, what am I doing to alleviate this problem. Investigate how you can be part of the solution.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day-to-day work? How do you take it on?
The single biggest challenge I face is a lack of awareness of the reality we live with. The general public simply doesn’t realize that there are many more victims than we think there are.  Victims are not just immigrants, they are our neighbours’ kids, our schoolmates, people we think are just other shoppers in small, medium and large shopping centers and we don’t have the services needed to support them. To take this on, I focus on education, advocacy, awareness raising and engaging in pilot projects aimed at providing 1st line workers and families with effective support that help women safely exit the industry.

Generally speaking, where do you look for inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the kindnesses I observe in human interactions each and every day.  And when these gentle kindnesses aren’t enough to pick me up, particularly through some of my toughest moments I’m reminded of the poem, Footprints, and find my inspiration in my personal faith. As a survivor, I identity with the survivor community who start the race to freedom in a less advantaged position but with inspiration finish the race neck in neck with everyone else and themselves serve as inspirations.

If you could achieve one goal in the next 18 months what would it be? And why?
The establishment of a bi-partisan multi-level governmental task-force that reviews a broad range of issues including an investigation into technology and its intersection with trafficking & exploitation, reviews of trends, reviews municipal licensing, focuses on creating consistency in application of laws intra provincially, and closing the gaps on needed services through a fulsome understanding of the various demographic settings including, mega urban, urban, rural, etc. This task force would include survivors and those who see sex as work.

(To see Casandra live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

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