Joy Smith served as a Member of Parliament from 2004–2015 and is a leading advocate against human trafficking. Smith made Canadian history as the first sitting MP to amend the Criminal Code twice, passing two antitrafficking bills. The Joy Smith Foundation focuses on prevention and education efforts against trafficking in Canada and around the world. Smith spoke to Faith Today about her time as a parliamentarian, and the joys and challenges of that unique role.
Faith Today: You retired in 2015. When you think back to when you were first elected, what did you think it would be like?
Joy Smith: Oh, I was starry eyed. You don’t really know what you are getting yourself into. I had a very clear motivation. I went to Parliament to serve my constituents, but also to put laws through for human trafficking. I had a purpose. But when you first get there it’s very confusing. The first year is a learning exercise.
FT: Your clear purpose had to do with fighting human trafficking. Is that typical? For parliamentarians to have an issue they are concentrating on?
JS: No, it’s more general usually. Politicians want to get elected, and they may fall into talking points and supporting government policies of whatever party they are in. Very few people I met went there for a specific purpose.
FT: It sounds like it might be difficult to keep your head on straight at times.
JS: It is. I’m not a typical parliamentarian. The issue drove me there and then I did all the other things I needed to do while there. I was chair of the National Health Committee of Canada. I really enjoyed that. I was chair of a Ukrainian friendship group and I really enjoyed that. I participated in everything, but after the first year I was very targeted in how to get things done.
FT: What would surprise Canadians to learn about the work of a federal politician?
JS: I think it would surprise them that it’s actually a lot of work. I was never one to go to all the receptions and things like that. It is a lot of work and it can be very lonely when your family is back home. There is an 80 per cent divorce rate.
FT: How did you keep healthy and avoid the traps that might befall some?
JS: I have a very strong faith and my faith had a lot to do with it. I befriended the people who were like minded, we had a prayer meeting every Wednesday. I hung out with the same people who had beliefs like I had. I wasn’t pushing to become a star. The actual work of Parliament gets done in committees, not in Parliament. I was genuinely interested in everything I was doing.
FT: What is your advice for new and incoming parliamentarians?
JS: If someone wants to be prime minister, they shouldn’t be running for office. You should go in to serve the people, you should be humble in what you are doing. In this business there is so much competition where everyone wants to one-up everyone else. A good number of them just want to zing the comments across Parliament. The fact of the matter is, they are there to help run the country and problem solve. They are supposed to be there for the people, listen first of all to the people who elected them, and everything else goes second.
Don’t become part of a gang on Parliament Hill. Parliamentarians are elected to go to Parliament to vote, to represent the people, the constituents who elected them. They should stay true to that. The people at home sometimes don’t check up on what they are doing. They should keep them honest.
FT: We vote and send our MPs to Ottawa. How can Canadians be supportive once they are there?
JS: They should be supportive of the ones that reflect their voice in Ottawa. You don’t have to be blindly supportive of the people who go to Ottawa. You need to know what they are doing. The ones who come home and keep their constituents informed, they are the ones to pay attention to. Appreciate the efforts MPs are putting in to try to keep them informed. Be mindful of the ones who stick to their convictions and represent their constituents. Let them know when they are doing a good job. It’s a hard job in many respects.
FT: Would you ever do it again, even if you could?
People should always speak to their MPs, and tell them what they are expecting and how they can help them. They must have that exchange.
FT: How did you get involved in human trafficking work?
JS: I found out kids were being bought and sold, and there were no laws to protect them from human traffickers. I worked on it for about ten years before I went to Parliament. There were no laws. That’s why I went. I was a little naïve. I thought I could do it right away. I had a lot of opposition. It took ten years by the time I got everything done.
FT: How can Canadians be more involved in fighting human trafficking?
JS: Citizens just need to educate themselves about what human trafficking is and how predators work. They need to protect their own families and give information to others.
FT: Does it help when people call and interact in other ways with their elected representatives in Ottawa?
JS: It absolutely does. People should always speak to their MPs, and tell them what they are expecting and how they can help them. They must have that exchange. Be aware of what they are doing all the time and give them positive feedback. Thank them. The big thing is giving them positive feedback when they do something good.
FT: Tell us about your work now as head of the Joy Smith Foundation.
JS: I just learned that I’m receiving the Order of Manitoba. I was quite happy about that because it recognizes, it brings the human trafficking issue up in the public profile. Right now I’m working very hard on preventing human trafficking from happening in the first place. Knowledge goes a long way and prevents it from happening. That’s what I’m focused on now. Kids need to know how to protect themselves. A lot of kids now know to say things like, "Hey, this person approached me!" It’s been very good.
FT: Is there anything you would do differently in Ottawa?
JS: I don’t know. I can’t think of anything I would do differently. I stood up for what I believed, I stood by it and I got the job done. Maybe I’d pray more and not be so worried all the time. I should have spent more time in the Word and more time in prayer. God sent me there. I should have had more confidence in that.
FT: Our cover story for this issue of Faith Today tells the story of a friendship between a politician and a pastor, but really touches on how we can help people keep their spiritual health in Ottawa. Do you have any insights to share on that?
JS: The prayer meeting on Wednesdays was my church community. I had my prayer partners. I worked with them all the time and prayed with them all the time. It’s just very important to not only represent your constituents, but keep yourself healthy. I think prayer is huge. God opens a door and protects you. There’s a lot of really good, honourable politicians on all sides of the House [of Commons].
FT: Thank you, Joy.
Listen to our interview with Rob Parker, co-director of the National House of Prayer, on how we can pray for and support politicians at www.TheEFC.ca/Podcasts.