Camps’ link to sex assault is real: experts
Researchers say most workers are nonviolent, but that Trudeau’s comments about risks are fair
Remote work camps are linked to increased violence against women and it’s a problem we need to address, experts say.
Conservative leaders slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend for comments he made to a gender equality panel at the G20 summit in Argentina, in which he talked about “gender impacts” that accompany large infrastructure projects.
“There are gender impacts when you bring construction workers into a rural area. There are social impacts because they’re mostly male construction workers. How are you adjusting and adapting to those?” he said in a minute-long clip circulated on social media.
Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and federal Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer both slammed Trudeau, characterizing the comment as an attack on male workers.
Kenney tweeted that Trudeau thinks male construction workers “can’t be trusted,” and shared a Facebook post from someone identifying as an oilfield worker’s wife who said Trudeau’s comments are “absolutely insulting” to workers and their families.
But several researchers say that while it’s not all workers, there is a link between camps and violence against women.
“When there’s a large-scale industrial development, when there’s construction camps that are co-located, we have documented increases in the rates of sexual assault, the rates of sexualized violence, the rates of prostitution, the rates of sexually transmitted infections,” said Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight Group, which does research in Indigenous and local communities in Canada.
Firelight’s 2017 report cites a 38 per cent increase in sexual assaults reported to RCMP during the first year of construction on an industrial project in Fort St. James, B.C.
It also notes a “sharp increase” in sex trafficking in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie, attributed to the rise in “increased income of young men, social isolation from families and relationships, and the hypermasculine context of camps.”
Jean L’Hommecourt of Fort McKay First Nation, a community near several oilsands work camps north of Fort McMurray, said she has seen crime follow the resource extraction industry in northern Alberta.
Some workers will go into the bush to drink and have parties, scaring women away from former fishing spots.
Others will threaten community members, L’Hommecourt said.
Once, she said she opened the door to her late mother’s trapping cabin and found a group of men had broken in.
“I go out on the land out there to do some healing … now I never go out there without my gun if I’m by myself,” she said.
Though the men left that day without threatening or hurting anyone, L’Hommecourt has had to abandon the cabin — she said people kept breaking in, smashing windows and kicking in the door.
Gibson notes her research has also documented many benefits work camps can bring to nearby rural communities. When an energy company building a pipeline near Hudson’s Hope, in northeastern B.C., in 2015 decided to bar workers from leaving the camps and interacting with neighbouring residents, it sparked complaints from some business owners who hoped to reap economic benefits from the project.
More at thestar.com/edmonton
With files from Emma McIntosh and Alex McKeen
“WE HAVE DOCUMENTED INCREASES IN THE RATES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, THE RATES OF SEXUALIZED VIOLENCE, THE RATES OF PROSTITUTION, THE RATES OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS.”
Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight Group
Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility north of Fort McMurray, Alta. A 2017 Firelight Group study noted a spike in sex trafficking in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie, attributed to “social isolation from families and relationships, and the hyper-masculine context of camps.”