Human trafficking involves acts that lead to the exploitation of human beings for the ongoing gain of traffickers/exploiters. Therefore, it is not limited to the single act of exploitation and instead involves a series of acts leading to the victim being put in an exploitative situation.
Victims and survivors of human trafficking are often unwilling to come forward to report human trafficking situations to law enforcement. This can be due to fear of retaliation from traffickers or the fear that they may have committed offences themselves, which creates difficulty for law enforcement in gathering credible evidence.
To address this, the law targets all those who may be involved in the human trafficking chain. The acts of recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring the victim are all considered trafficking. Therefore, anyone contributing to any of these acts is a trafficker. For example, someone who drives a victim from their home to the venue where they are forced into prostitution is considered a trafficker if they knew full well why they were transporting the victim.
It can still be difficult to prove the actual acts committed by the trafficker to exploit the victim. This is why, through the Criminal Code, the trafficker can also be punished for exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a victim. For example, a guard who watches over a victim doing forced agricultural work is considered a trafficker.
In order to determine if a situation meets the threshold for human trafficking, the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline applies an Action-Relationship and Purpose (A-RP) model. This will address if the potential trafficker is involved in any recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring of the victim. It also identifies if they have a controlling relationship over the victim and whether the trafficker intended to exploit the victim.
Often, a trafficker uses force, coercion or deception to put the victim in a situation where they can be exploited. For example, a trafficker may make false promises of a wonderful job abroad to lure the victim from their home country and then house them in poor conditions and not pay them.
Trafficking in the Canadian context can also occur without force, coercion or deception, and even when the victim consents to it. For example, a foreign domestic worker may be too scared to leave their job and will continue working despite not being paid because the employer is withholding their passport.
Concealing, removing, withholding or destroying any travel document, passport or visa are strong indicators of human trafficking. The abuse of a position of trust, power or authority is also a strong indicator of a trafficker’s intent to exploit their victim.
According to the RCMP, between 2005 and December 2018, human trafficking specific charges were laid in 531 cases. Of these cases:
- 510 were domestic (primarily sexual exploitation);
- 21 were international (primarily forced labour);
- 327 victims were involved;
- 257 individuals were convicted of multiple offences;
- 316 remain before the court (involving approximately 511 accused and 420 victims); and
- 143 successfully resulted in human trafficking specific and/or related convictions (i.e. procuring, living off the avails of prostitution, forcible confinement, keeping a common bawdy house, etc.)
However, due to the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward and the difficulty in identifying victims, it is still difficult to assess the extent of human trafficking in Canada.
To date, Canada’s longest sentence for human trafficking for sexual exploitation is 23 years (conviction by judge) whilst that of forced labour was 9 years (guilty plea).
The purchase of sexual services is a criminal offence in Canada. However, prostitution is not a criminal offence. Solicitation of sexual services is only criminalized when it is carried out in the following ways:
- In a public place;
- In any place open to public view;
- Next to a school, playground or daycare centre; or
- In a way that stops or impedes the free flow of vehicle or pedestrian traffic
Pimps are those who recruit other persons to provide sexual services for money. If the person engaging in prostitution does so voluntarily, the pimp commits a pimping offence under s286.3 of the Criminal Code. However, if the victim is exploited (i.e. forced or tricked into prostitution), then the pimp becomes a human trafficker and is punished more severely.
Human smuggling requires the transportation of individuals or the crossing of internal borders, and typically affects immigrants and/or foreign nationals. It also requires some form of physical force, physical abuse, or physical restraint.
At the first stage of a typical trafficking situation, the trafficker identifies the victim. The trafficker can be a boyfriend, recruitment agent, family member or any trustworthy person. In the second stage, the trafficker establishes a relationship of trust with the victim – e.g. through buying them gifts or paying special attention to them. The trafficker then learns about the victim’s vulnerabilities and preys on these vulnerabilities in the third stage. At this point, the trafficker brings the victim under their control. The victims are often unable to escape from the grip of the trafficker who uses force, sexual assault, and/or threats of violence against them. Finally, the victim is continuously exploited and made to undergo physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Although women represent the majority of human trafficking victims in Canada, men and children can also be victims. Those who are most likely to be at-risk include:
- Persons who are socially or economically disadvantaged, including Indigenous women, youth and children, migrants and new immigrants, and runaway/homeless youth
- Girls and women who may be lured to large urban centres or move there voluntarily
High-risk venues for sex trafficking include:
- Escort services
- The internet (particularly classified ad sites)
- Massage parlours
- Modeling studios
- Private residences
High-risk areas for labour trafficking include:
- Agriculture sites
- Construction sites
- Domestic servitude
There are very few clear black-and-white indicators of human trafficking. An individual may be a potential victim of human trafficking if they:
- Exhibit a sudden change in behaviour
- Rarely respond to phone calls and/or messages and disappear for long periods of time
- Move frequently and often change addresses
- Bear injuries and/or bruises
- Are unfamiliar with the neighborhood they live/work in
- Do not have a passport or other major pieces of identification, or their passport, visa or travel documents have been confiscated by their employer
- Do not speak on their own behalf
- Show signs of malnourishment and being overworked