Sheldon Kennedy, Paul Brandt and Friends Band Together to Combat Human Trafficking

Sheldon Kennedy, Sal Howell, Paul Hardy, Joy Smith and Paul Brandt gather at the Dean House in Calgary on July 5, 2017. The group are involved in #NotInMyCity, a new Calgary-based campaign aimed at raising awareness about human trafficking.

“If this was 1996, I’d be standing here all by myself.”

Twenty-one years might seem like a long time ago, but for Sheldon Kennedy it’s never far from his thoughts. That year, the then-27-year-old NHL player shocked the country with the revelation that he had been sexually abused more than 300 times by his junior hockey coach, Graham James.

As we chat moments before a news conference on the beautiful and lush grounds of the Deane House restaurant in Inglewood, both of us know that Kennedy no longer stands alone, both literally and figuratively. The man who’s been appointed to the Alberta Order of Excellence and a member of the Order of Canada is now known around the world for his advocacy role and leadership of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

On Wednesday morning, those who stand with him are some of the most influential and passionate community leaders, including Deane House proprietor Sal Howell, philanthropists Tom and Debra Mauro, designer Paul Hardy and our city’s own homegrown country music superstar, Paul Brandt.

In this location that Howell so aptly calls a “sanctuary of nature” in the heart of Calgary, they’re here to launch the #NotInMyCity campaign (, in partnership with the City of Calgary and the Calgary Police Service.

The campaign’s mission is to combat human trafficking in the city, with a two-pronged approach of education/awareness and uniting local leaders and agencies to combat the growing problem.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons — through the use of force or other forms of coercion — for the purpose of exploitation, usually in the sex trade or for forced labour.

On this day, it’s not surprising in the least to see the two famed Calgary Pauls, friends and fellow humanitarians who have been working for decades to help vulnerable people all around the world, on the high-powered team.

“I initially thought of entering a float in the parade because it’s the anniversary of my business and then do an after party at the Deane House,” says Hardy, an internationally known designer celebrating 15 years in the industry. “Then, (Brandt) told me about what was happening in the city.”

What that is, says Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin, is the growing problem of human trafficking, one that has greater resonance at this time of the year.

“We know the predators are going to use that opportunity of tourism here to get engaged,” Chaffin tells the crowd that includes media, City of Calgary manager Jeff Fielding and Joy Smith, a former Tory MP and a longtime anti-human trafficking advocate.

“If you see this behaviour, let us know so we can do something about it.”

Smith, a mother of six, says that when she was teaching seminars on internet safety 20 years ago, she was shocked to learn that children in this country “were being bought and sold, the perpetrators earning $260,000 to $280,000 per victim, per year.”

She says that over the decades she’s worked with hundreds of survivors of human trafficking, “and it is under-reported in the city, in every city... and it happens at all large entertainment events.”

During Calgary’s biggest entertainment event of the year, many Calgarians will be wearing the yellow bandanas and scarves promoting the campaign, while Stampede chuckwagon driver Chad Harden’s canvas tarp will be sporting the #NotInMyCity yellow rose logo.

Seeing the support from so many local leaders, including 2009 Stampede Rangeland Derby champion driver Harden, Sheldon Kennedy is in pretty good company these days.

“I used to think I was the only one,” says Kennedy, who emcee Dave Kelly describes as a man who embodies the campaign being launched on this day.

“We need to protect people who don’t have a voice.”