Trafficking in persons is an increasingly pressing issue in global migration policy, particularly in the wake of the COVID‑19 pandemic that has exacerbated many contributing factors. The United Nations describes trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons … for the purpose of exploitation,” through prostitution or other forms of sexual slavery, forced labour or services, or organ removal. While initial efforts to combat trafficking in persons have targeted international criminal networks, governments and policy makers are learning that traffickers can be individuals operating alone and within the borders of a single country. Likewise, while the classic image of trafficking victims is that of sexually exploited women and children, awareness of forced labour and its role in international supply chains is growing among civil society organizations and governments.
Canada is a source, transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. The vast majority of trafficking convictions in Canada involve Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Foreign nationals who are trafficked in Canada usually enter the country willingly, only to later find themselves in exploitative situations. For both internationally and domestically trafficked persons, vulnerability to being trafficked is heightened by economic deprivation, lack of opportunity and/or social isolation. In Canada, this includes population groups such as Indigenous women and girls, migrants and new immigrants, members of the LGBTQ2 community, persons with disabilities, children in care and other at-risk youth.
Trafficking in persons is directly addressed in sections 279.01 to 279.04 of the Criminal Code and in section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Additionally, a 2020 amendment to section 132(1) of the Customs Tariff bans the import of goods made using forced labour. Trafficking offences committed outside of Canada by permanent residents or citizens can be prosecuted in Canada. Between 2008–2009 and 2018–2019, a total of 697 court cases involving Criminal Code trafficking charges were heard, 28% of which resulted in a guilty finding. Four cases were prosecuted under the IRPA between 2009 and 2016.
Recognizing trafficked persons as victims of crime rather than as criminals is an important first step in uncovering trafficking networks and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Immigration protection measures are available for trafficked foreign nationals, such as the temporary resident permit or the open work permit for vulnerable workers. For domestically trafficked individuals, who form the majority of those trafficked in Canada, support services like housing, counselling and legal assistance are largely provided by non-governmental organizations. The quality and availability of these services vary considerably between provinces and regions.
In 2019, Canada’s federal government introduced its National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking: 2019–2024, a whole-of-government approach supported by $75 million in federal funding and led by Public Safety Canada. It seeks to build on the successes of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking that was in place from 2012 to 2016, while addressing some of the remaining challenges that were identified in its reviews. A special advisor on human trafficking was appointed in 2019 to help implement the strategy.
While Canada’s overall approach to trafficking has been praised by experts and advocates, gaps have also been noted in Canada’s response to date. These include the ad hoc nature of victim services, the lack of specialized trauma care consistently available to formerly trafficked individuals, the widespread lack of awareness of labour trafficking and the insufficient resources dedicated to it compared to those earmarked for trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Trafficking in Persons
Author: Lara Coleman, Library of Parliament