YARMOUTH, N.S. – Jennifer Holleman talks to her daughter Maddison a lot.
She talks to her at home. When she’s driving in a car. When she’s on a trip. When she’s spending time with Maddison’s daughter.
On the evening of Sunday, March 18, Holleman – physically exhausted from travel, mentally exhausted from sorting things over in her mind – poured her heart out to Maddison once again.
The next day was a big opportunity for the mother and daughter and Holleman was struggling with her emotions. What should she say? How would she say it right?
And so she grabbed Maddison’s photograph and talked to her daughter, like she has so many times since Maddison Fraser’s death in July 2015.
“I was just like, ‘I really need your help right now. I just need you to be there with me and give me the strength to get through this.’ And I really think she was,” the mother says.
On Monday, March 19, Holleman shared hers and Maddison’s story with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee is travelling the country to study the issue of human trafficking and what can be done to combat it. Holleman was invited to participate in a round-table discussion in Halifax.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights says “trafficking in persons” refers to the recruitment, transportation, harbouring, detention or control of a person for the purpose of forced service. It can take different forms, including domestic slavery, forced labour in various industries and sexual exploitation, which seems to be the main reason for human trafficking in Canada.
Holleman told the committee about how her daughter was lured out west to work in the sex trade when she was 19. About how her daughter was severely beaten and tortured. About the phone call telling her her daughter was dead following an automobile crash in Edmonton. The driver of the vehicle, who later died, was believed to be a john.
Maddison was 21.
THE TURN IN MADDISON’S LIFE
The mother says there weren’t a lot of warning signs of the turn her daughter’s life had taken. She remembers a trip she took out west once to visit her daughter where everything seemed to check out fine. Maddison said she was fine.
But Maddison kept many things secret from her mom. Holleman figures her daughter wanted to protect her and didn't want her to know what was happening. She figures Maddison didn’t want her to get involved and confront the dangerous people who were now a part of her life.
But even not knowing the full story, Holleman worried about her daughter. At times when her daughter was missing and/or had cut off communication, she took her concerns to police officials out west seeking help. She says none came.
Although she knew her daughter was working in the sex trade, it wasn’t until after her daughter’s death that Holleman learned of the severity of the life Maddison had been caught up in. She found a voice recording on her daughter’s phone in which Maddison had talked about being beaten and tortured. Her hair was set on fire. She was burned with cigarettes and lighters. She was sexually assaulted. Holleman now has a photograph of Maddison in which her daughter is barely recognizable. Her face is bloated and bruised, her eyes black and swollen shut.
In her voice recording Maddison had provided names and Holleman passed that information on to the police in Grand Prairie, Alberta, but says there has never been any justice on her daughter’s behalf.
It makes Holleman sad. It makes her frustrated. It makes her angry.
And so she welcomed the opportunity to speak to the House of Commons committee. She says the day after meeting with the committee was the first day in a long time that she actually felt peaceful.
“I think it’s because I feel like they’re listening,” she says.
Holleman told the committee that she has zero faith in the justice system and is tired of hearing the response, “There’s nothing we can do.”
“I was fighting for justice for my child and they have all of the information they need, in my mind, to put these people behind bars and they’re doing nothing because they have to follow all of the rules and regulations of the justice system,” she says, saying she told committee members, “The police need their hands untied.”
She pulls out her cellphone and scrolls and scrolls through messages she’d received from other families and other young women going through what her daughter did. These people are strangers and yet they’re reaching out to her for help.
She has also had some people send horrible, vile messages directed at her and her daughter.
She says all of the messages she receives – good and bad – solidify her resolve to keep moving forward.
“Maddison was 21 years old but what constitutes an adult?” Holleman says of the time her daughter was beaten and tortured. “If you walk into a hospital in that state and you have to spend four days in there before you’re capable of walking out that door you should never be allowed to walk out that door without something being done.
“They didn’t contact me, and I’m sure she didn’t want them to. They asked her everyday if she wanted them to contact the authorities, she said no,” the mother says. But she says those calls should have been made.
Maddison may have been an adult, but she was still someone’s daughter. And Holleman thinks of other people's daughters too.
“I told the committee rape kits need to be mandatory. If a girl is raped and obviously scared, do the rape kit and put it away so that when the day comes that she says, ‘I have the strength and I’m taking the bull by the horns and we’re getting these bastards,’ pull the rape kit out, do the DNA test. She can point the finger and the system can lock them up and put them where they belong.”
PUTTING TOGETHER A PUZZLE
Holleman says when she tells the story of her daughter, it’s like having a huge puzzle set out in front of her.
“I don’t have all of the pieces. The pieces I do have are very difficult to put together,” she says. “I put together a section of the puzzle and then I’m missing many pieces, so it's very difficult for me to see everything in its entirety, even two-and-a-half years after Maddison’s death.”
Asked if she ever expects to finish this puzzle, she says after speaking with the House of Commons committee her perspective has changed somewhat.
“It’s weird because at first I was really hell bent on figuring all of that out and now I feel like she’s sent me on this direction and what I accomplished (with the committee) is far and beyond what I ever imagined,” Holleman says.
Holleman has often thought about fundraising for a cause in Maddison’s name. She’s toyed with having a golf tournament or an annual run. She’s now been put in touch with people who have an expertise in fundraising and has ideas she’d like to see pursued to help young women like her daughter.
“They need rehabilitation centres, they need hope centres where people can go to if they want to get out of what they’re caught in. If a girl calls a hotline at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning and says, ‘I want out of this, I want you to get me,’ that doesn’t mean at 9 a.m. on Monday they’re going to feel the same way. So when they’re ready to go, you’ve got to get them,” she says. “But you need somewhere for them to go that they’re going to be safe.”
Perhaps, she says, one of these centres could even be named after Maddison.
“I want her to be remembered forever,” the mother says.
When Maddison came into this world, her mom says she was loud and clear and always made her presence known. That never changed.
As a teenager Maddison was a two-time Canadian national boxing champion. Later she thought about being a nurse.
“This is really hard for me to say. Even if she didn’t get killed in the car accident, she never would have been the same person,” her mom says. “She could have tried to pretend to be the same person, but she never would have been the same. You can’t just take somebody out of that lifestyle after that long, or longer, and pluck them back into society and expect that it’s going to be normal for them because it’s not.
“They’re a changed individual and they’re literally broken and dead inside.”
Holleman wants people to remember Maddison, even those who didn't know her. By telling her story, and telling the House of Commons committee about what happened to Maddison, she hopes her daughter's life can make a real difference.
“She’s becoming the face of change and to me that’s huge."
“In the beginning Maddison made some wrong choices. In the end she didn’t have a choice,” says Holleman. “And when you don’t have a choice your hands may as well be tied.”