The following is written by Eugene Au, lawyer with International Justice Mission Canada (IJM) in Vancouver, B.C.

“Hey Eugene,

One of the things I appreciate about your S.C.C. newsletter is finding out about what other lawyers do, and learning from their interests and experiences.  For myself, people have asked how I went from practising law to my current work with International Justice Mission (IJM), a charitable organization that works to protect vulnerable people from forms of violence worldwide — slavery, violence against women and children, and police abuse of power.  IJM strengthens justice systems to ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable and survivors are supported on their journey of restoration.

Before joining the staff of IJM Canada, I volunteered through the organization’s internship program.  As a lawyer, I participated in the Legal Fellowship, spending a year in South Asia with our casework team in the fight against human trafficking.  We supported underage victims of trafficking, as the cases against those who exploited them went through the legal process.  Our work included research for court applications to support the prosecution, and developing training materials to strengthen the justice system’s capacity to respond in cases of violence.  During the Fellowship, we got to celebrate the conviction of traffickers, and also as survivors reached milestones in their restoration.  It was powerful for me to learn about the collective impact of this work from my colleagues — local staff who had served the mission for many years.  Our work requires effective collaboration with local authorities, and it had taken time to build trust and credibility in order to work together effectively.  But over time and with persistent, collaborative work, the prevalence of trafficking of minors in the city has been drastically reduced, and this is worthy of celebration!

After I completed the Legal Fellowship, I returned to Vancouver and resumed my law practice.  But the experience of the Fellowship was formative and it continued to solidify my interest in IJM.  So when this current role with IJM Canada became available, I looked at it as another opportunity to serve the mission, despite not having a background in non-profit work.  I joined the staff and now work in development to raise awareness and funds in Canada to support IJM’s global mission.

In my role, I serve IJM’s constituents to help them engage with the mission.  I tell them about our work and the great impact of their support.  Recently, I’ve spoken with individuals and groups about forced scamming – a complex and fast-growing form of slavery.  We’ve all likely received a text or social media message from someone we don’t know, trying to strike up a conversation.  Because we suspect that it is a scam, we ignore these messages, and we tell our family and friends to do the same.  But what about the person who is sending the message – who are they?  It turns out that they may themselves be victims of human trafficking who have been deceived by false advertising for a lucrative job – but this job isn’t real.  After they arrive at the fake job, they are not allowed to leave, and they are forced to scam people under abusive and violent conditions.  (CBC Marketplace produced this story about forced scamming earlier this year.)

When I’ve told others about this form of trafficking, the response I often hear is, “I didn’t know that this was happening” or “I’ve never thought about who was on the other side of these messages.”   Hearing these responses is meaningful because it shows that I’ve helped our constituents better understand the scope of the problem IJM is addressing, which is done with their help.  It is also rewarding when I get to share about the successes that their support has made possible, and the difference they’ve made in the lives of others.

Also as part of my role, I get to travel to the field with our supporters to learn more about the mission.  Earlier this year, I visited our office in Guatemala.  In the Latin America region, IJM works with partners to protect vulnerable women and children from violence.  This trip included a visit to the Institute for Victim Assistance, a government initiative that provides free services to victims, including medical assistance, counselling, and legal representation.  At the Institute, I learned about a tragic incident in 2017, where 41 teenage girls died in a fire at a shelter home.  This home was an institution for youths who had been abandoned or orphaned.  In Constitution Plaza in Guatemala City, I saw this memorial that had been created to remember the victims of this tragedy: click here and here.

Also on this trip, our group joined a celebration ceremony for three young survivors of violence who had reached an important milestone in their restoration journey.  This ceremony was held at the local zoo, and one of the activities was a scavenger hunt that we got to participate in together. Seeing the survivors having fun with their mothers and care workers as we ran around the zoo taking photos together was both a strange, and strong, reminder: that they remain children with dignity and deserving of protection and safety.  It was an honour to celebrate with them as they were given the dignity that they were due, and commended for their resilience, perseverance, and strength.

Reflecting on this trip, and in learning about organizations that serve victims of violence in Guatemala, I was reminded once again that when justice systems are not effective, it is the poor and marginalized who are the most vulnerable to abuse.  This is especially the case if those committing violence do not believe that there is anyone who will support and defend the victims.  Our hope at IJM is that victims of violence will receive support and care that can improve the trajectory of their lives. Also, as justice systems are strengthened, people will feel safer in their communities as violence is prevented from happening in the first place.  This is the impact that we’ve seen in communities around the world, which makes me hopeful that justice and protection for vulnerable people will continue to expand.  And finally, I am reminded that as lawyers, there truly are many ways that we can make a difference by helping others — especially those who are underserved — and it is indeed a privilege to do so.

Eugene.”

(And because Eugene started his email to me with “Hey Eugene”, here’s Hey Eugene by Pink Martini [China Forbes, singing], click here.) Best line in the song: “You looked into my bloodshot eyes, and said ‘Is it too soon if I call you Sunday?’”

And speaking of good lines, was running at the gym yesterday, and Born to Run by The Boss was on my iPod. Best line: “Highway’s jammed with heroes on a last chance power drive.” (from 1975, but a riff on the current U.S. election?)

Thank you: Eugene Au
Lawyer, Development Officer, International Justice Mission Canada, Vancouver, eau@ijm.ca.