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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Brennan High School student working to help end child labour

by Kyle Reid

From an early age, 16-year-old Mira Gillis of F.J. Brennan High School was passionate about social justice and working to help others.

“I think it was the way I was brought up,” Gillis said. “My parents always instilled in me the value that if you have a good position in life, you should use it to help other people.”

Late last year, Gillis, a Grade 11 student, was selected as one of only 30 high school students from across Canada serving as a World Vision National Youth Advocate. In that role, Gillis is taking part in the youth advocacy program to help fight against companies that exploit child labour to provide cheap goods to Canadian consumers. It’s a cause near and dear to the young activist.

“It [is] such an important project to me,” Gillis said. “You hear of child labour and it’s kind of a distant thought…it was the thought that kids my age and younger were being deprived of their childhood and education so that companies can have their products made at cheaper prices.”

In order to combat child labour taking place in countries halfway around the world, the socially-conscious group of teenagers are participating in an advocacy campaign to push the federal government to pass supply chain legislation. That legislation would force companies to declare if any products they sell in Canada are made using child labour.

“It would ensure that Canadians and Canada as a whole aren’t dismissing the issue,” Gillis said, noting consumers would be able to make more informed and ethical choices about the products they buy. “It’s hard to look up that information right now.”

Gillis applied and was accepted to the youth ambassador program in September. Shortly after she was invited to Toronto, along with her group colleagues, where they met with World Vision officials who tasked the group with advocating the federal government to work towards passing supply chain legislation.

As part of that effort a video production and photo shoot featuring 10 of the group, including Gillis, was done in Toronto’s Graffiti Alley. Shot over a two-week period, the video titled ‘Canada’s Moment to End Child Labour,’ is now available on YouTube.

That video, featuring Gillis and her peers, shows the group giving a striking call to action to the federal government to implement the legislation to give Canadians more information about the ethical impact of their shopping habits. According to numbers provided in the video, some $34 billion of goods are imported into Canada at a high risk of being connected to child labour.

“We have a big impact in it because of the products we buy,” Gillis said. “A lot of major brands and companies do use and exploit children in order to have those cheaper products that we buy.”

The video invites viewers to sign a petition, which, as of Friday, was just short of their goal of 35,000 signatures. So far, Gillis said, the video seems to have been making an impact on viewers.

“We wanted to make it so that it grabbed people’s attention,” Gillis said. “That’s why it’s only a minute long — we wanted to make sure it was quick and straight to the point.”

As of Friday, Gillis said she was still waiting to hear back from officials from the federal government. She is planning to reach out to her local representative, Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle, with the hopes that Hardcastle will take the issue to Parliament Hill.

So far, the video, which was posted on Jan. 1, seems to be creating quite a stir. It had nearly 3,000 views by Friday.

“Obviously the community is really excited about it,” Gillis said, with a laugh. “My Dad [said], ‘Oh my gosh, you’re famous now.”

Gillis, however, would be the first to note she was never looking for recognition when she decided to take on the role.

“I like to help people,” Gillis admitted. “I don’t ask for recognition, I don’t think that’s the point of doing something. You should be doing it for the benefit of others, not for self-promotion…It draws attention to me, but you should be focusing on the petition.”

Instead, it was the stories of the young children who endure long days in horrible and dangerous working conditions that motivated Gillis to join the group.

“We live in a world where not everyone is treated equally, which is very unfortunate,” Gillis commented. “In regards to [supply chain] legislation, it’s something that you would think that Canada would already have, but we don’t. In my opinion, it should be a no-brainer.”

It’s a ‘no-brainer’ for Gillis, but legislation has yet to be adopted by the Canadian government. She plans on taking on her new role and having her voice heard — something she believes everyone is capable of.  

“Every person has the chance to have a voice, every voice counts,” Gillis said. “I know I’m only 16, and it’s kind of crazy that this video is getting so much attention, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that no matter the age, everyone has the opportunity to make a difference and have their voice heard.”


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