Information About Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

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.


What are the indicators of human trafficking?

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.


How common is human trafficking in Canada?

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).


What is the difference between sex trafficking and pimping?

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.


What is the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling?

In contrast to human trafficking which can take place both domestically and internationally, human smuggling is a crime that takes place only across borders. It consists in assisting/facilitating people to enter or stay in Canada illegally, for a financial or material gain. Unlike human trafficking, human smuggling does not require the use of force, coercion, deception and/or abuse of trust, power or authority on the victims.


How does human trafficking typically happen?

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.


Who is most at risk?

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)
  • Motels/hotels
  • Massage parlours
  • Modeling studios
  • Nightclubs/bars
  • Private residences
  • Shelters

High-risk areas for labour trafficking include:

  • Agriculture sites
  • Construction sites
  • Domestic servitude
  • Restaurants


What are the red flags for human trafficking?

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


Safety Planning

This safety planning information is intended to help human trafficking victims, or those who may be at risk of being trafficked.

Safety planning involves:

  • Identifying current and potential risks and safety concerns
  • Creating plans to reduce risk and avoid/reduce harm
  • Developing options that can be used when safety is threatened

Safety planning should reflect an individual’s risk assessment of their own situation and concerns. A safety plan is more likely to be used if it includes actions that an individual is comfortable with and has self-identified as being realistic.

For organizations or individuals (e.g. friends or family) helping a victim of trafficking with safety planning, it may be helpful to review the warning signs of sex and labour trafficking found on our website.


General Safety Tips

  • Trust your judgment and intuition/instincts
    • If someone promises you something (e.g. easy/quick money for little effort) that seems too good to be true, the situation may likely be different than described.
    • If someone makes you feel uncomfortable with their words or actions, trust how you feel and what your instincts tell you.
    • If an environment, location, or situation makes you nervous, try to remove yourself from the situation if you can.
    • If your romantic partner asks you to do things you do not like, are worried about, or are uncomfortable with (i.e. photographing or videotaping sexual activity or nudity, forceful sex acts, engaging in commercial sex or sex acts with his/her friends or strangers, abusing drugs or alcohol, etc.), tell that person that you do not like it. Also, tell a trusted person of your concerns in case things become worse.
  • Allow a trusted friend, relative, or other person to help keep you safe
    • Stay in touch with this trusted person and let them know when you have concerns about your situation.
    • Set up safety words with this trusted person that you can use to let them know it is safe to talk, or you are not safe and need assistance. Create actions that you would like them to do if you use a certain safety word (e.g. call 911 for you, meet you somewhere to pick you up, end the call because you are not safe to talk, etc.).
    • Keep this trusted person’s contact information with you at all times.
    • Inform your trusted person if you will be travelling or moving to another location.
  • Keep possession of all your important documents and identification
    • Nobody has the right to take or hold your personal documents (e.g. driver’s licence, passport, credit card, bank card, birth certificate, etc.)
    • Make photocopies of your important documents and identification and keep them in a safe place that you can access if your documents are taken from you. If you are comfortable with it, consider giving these copies to your trusted person. You can also scan your important documents and ID and send the picture file to a safe email address that you have access to.
    • Keep a list of any medications you are taking with your important documents.
  • Try to keep control and possession of some way to communicate and to access your money
    • Keep possession of a cellphone if possible. If keeping your phone is difficult, have a second cheap phone for emergencies – store it somewhere safe for your access only.
    • Have a prepaid calling card that you can use as a back-up plan.
    • Try to maintain access to your bank account or another safe way of obtaining money, especially for emergency use.
  • Be aware and careful when using technology such as smartphones and computers
    • Create a separate email account (using a neutral, non-identifying email address) to use with a trusted person if you are concerned your usual email account is being monitored.
    • Use public computers (e.g. at libraries and community centres) if your computer/smartphone searches and activity are being monitored.
    • Learn to disable and/or delete computer and smartphone functions which can be used to monitor your activity such as browser history, search engine history, chat logs, and histories on social media.
    • Be careful with what you post on social media sites. Too much personal information can be used by traffickers. Posting information about friends, families, your schedule or location, your daily activities and so forth can make you vulnerable to manipulation and threats. Learn to disable the GPS and location functions when posting to social media accounts, including location tags on photos.
    • Change your passwords/PINs to email accounts, phone apps, bank accounts, and other important tools frequently. Do not allow a computer to remember your password.
    • Empty your email account’s Sent and Trash folders regularly. Choose the setting that automatically deletes their contents after each session ends.
  • Contact responsible organizations for assistance or information
    • Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.
    • Contact the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 for referrals to social services and supports (such as shelters, medical assistance, legal advice, emergency transportation, etc.) and to law enforcement if you wish. The hotline can also help with general information on trafficking issues and situations, as well as help with safety planning.
    • Access the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline’s online Referral Directory to connect directly with social services and supports (such as shelters, medical assistance, legal advice, emergency transportation, etc.).
    • Victim Services can also be accessed by calling 211.


Safety Tips when Leaving a Human Trafficking Situation

In addition to the points above, the following points can be considered to help ensure your safety when trying to leave a trafficking situation:

  • Try to determine your location if you do not know it – this is important if you make a call for assistance and need to move farther away from the area. Clues to your location include street signs, mailing envelopes, building addresses, and signs in building lobbies. If it is safe to go outside, ask someone on the street or in a store for the location.
  • Keep your documents on or near you.
  • Memorize a few important phone numbers of people or organizations that can help you in case your phone is taken from you.
  • If it is possible to carry a bag, pack a small amount of important items such as a change of clothes, medications, prepaid calling card, important phone numbers, etc.
  • Plan an escape route and rehearse how you will make your way. Try to find and remember potential places to ask for help – pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ offices, stores, restaurants, banks, etc.
  • Contact a trusted person to let them know of your intention to leave. Ask for help if you feel safe to do so.
  • Determine if a taxi or public transit is a safe option, and try to find out where you can be picked up without putting yourself in danger.
  • Contact the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 for assistance including urgent transportation, shelter, and other social services.
  • If you find yourself in immediate danger, call 911 and clearly tell them what actions you need taken to become safe.


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