A Chatham woman’s tireless efforts into supporting victims of human trafficking have earned her provincial recognition.
The Ontario government named Kelly Tallon Franklin as a recipient of a June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Volunteerism this year.
Franklin, a victim of human trafficking herself in the 1980s, has for decades worked to combat the crime and aid the victims.
She is so devoted to her Courage for Freedom charity that when a member of her board called to tell her she was a Callwood recipient, Franklin thought it was a joke.
“Someone on my board called me up and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I thought they were acting like Ashton Kutcher (of “Punk’d”) – pranking me. I said, ‘Shut up,’ and hung up on them,” she said. “I have that kind of fun relationship with the board. But then she wrote me an e-mail and called me out. It (the award) was an actual thing.”
Franklin said she’s very proud to have been nominated, let alone to be a recipient.
“This is an organizational award, but also an award I have the privilege to carry,” she said. “All I have done is literally be the mouthpiece for survivors.”
That doesn’t mean she immediately wanted to accept it. Franklin, who admits she still suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) from her time being trafficked, said she does have some guilt for being a voice for other victims. However, with some “wise conversations and encouragement,” from the people around her, she opted to accept.
“I’m giving my life and all my resources to this,” she said of combating human trafficking.
Franklin said her experience with being trafficked still haunts her to this day.
“A lot of the stuff that happened to me happened in the ’80s, and involved guns and gangs and incarceration. Some of the young women I knew at that time have been murdered or are still missing,” she said. “I just want to honour a lot of memories.”
She said she had the chance to “heal and grow. It’s the reason I do what I do.”
Franklin said the Callwood award is for the more than 400 survivors of human trafficking her organization has worked with and continues to work with.
She said the job is far from over.
“We are going to work tirelessly. Our goal is to eradicate the buying and selling of young girls and boys,” Franklin said. “People are being hurt; people are being victimized; and people need to be heard.”
Franklin said the pandemic has not slowed human trafficking.
“It’s been a really hard two years with COVID. We had to pivot and transition so much with our care,” she said. “There has been an increase in human trafficking and luring and grooming, here in Chatham, across the province, nationally and globally.”
Prior to the pandemic, Courage for Freedom organized a co-ordinated awareness event all along the Highway 401 corridor, called Project OnRoute.
It took place in late July of 2019, as Project Maple Leaf, part of Franklin’s Courage for Freedom effort, focused on raising awareness on how the 401 corridor is a heavily utilized human trafficking route.
“We started the corridor conversations. Chatham needed to be involved in this,” she said, adding the Tilbury OnRoute hosted one of the events. Politicians, police services, community and women’s groups and the public gathered that day in support of Franklin’s efforts.
Callwood was one of Canada’s most well-known social activists who founded or co-founded more than 50 Canadian social action organizations.
The award bearing her name recognizes the leadership, innovation and creativity of individual volunteers, volunteer administrators and volunteer organizations who support communities across Ontario.
Since 2009, 226 individuals and groups have received the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism.