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Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

You may have heard of the term 'trafficking' before, referring to the dealing and/or trade of drugs. However, human trafficking involves the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, fraud or deception.

In Canada, there have been cases of both domestic and international human trafficking.

  • International Human Trafficking refers to any victim who, in the process of being trafficked, crosses an international border (regardless of the victim's status in Canada).
  • Domestic Human Trafficking refers to any victim of human trafficking who is trafficked within Canada (regardless of the victim's status in Canada).

Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling. Smuggling is the organized, illegal movement of persons across international borders into a country, with their consent, in exchange for a sum of money. Typically, the relationship between the smuggler and smuggled person ends once the person arrives at his or her destination. However, in some cases, the person who has agreed to be smuggled may become a victim of human trafficking at the hands of the smuggler. The offence of human trafficking does not require the crossing of an international border, or any movement at all.3

Victims of human trafficking can be exploited in various ways, and as a result of the way they are controlled and treated, they feel that they cannot escape their situation:

  • Sexual Exploitation: This means a person is exploited for a sexual purpose; the person is forced to provide sexual services through prostitution, work in massage parlours, escort agencies, or in the adult entertainment industry, (strip clubs), etc. The victims have little say in what they are required to do and where or when they work. Most or all of the money is controlled by their pimp/boyfriend/trafficker.
  • Forced Labour: The person is forced to provide labour or service under exploitive circumstances such as working long hours for little or no pay; being promised that they would be doing a certain type of work but being forced/coerced to do something else: and working in dangerous environments with little or no safety equipment. Their living arrangements might also be controlled by their trafficker, (where they live, what they eat and who they can talk to).
  • Domestic Servitude: This could include being forced to work as a nanny or live-in caregiver who is pressured to work long hours, or providing labour and services outside their reasonable duties (or outside of a regular 8-hour day). For example: forcing the nanny to be on-call for the children at all hours, being forced to wash the employer's vehicles or give them massages, etc.4

How Does Human Trafficking Occur?

Usually, a person is recruited, then they are isolated or transported, and ultimately they are forced to provide labour or a service.

  • Recruitment: Traffickers approach potential victims in many ways, including pretending to be a potential boyfriend or friend, contacting them via social media such as Facebook, posting newspaper or Internet ads for jobs and opportunities, or even threatening or kidnapping them. Often, promises will be made to the victims such as money, brand name clothes, work or education, financial aid for their family, etc.
  • Transportation/Isolation: Victims are often (but not always) moved around by traffickers, sometimes with the promise of a better life, as a way to isolate them from family and/or people they know or areas that are familiar to them.
  • Exploitation: Exploitation is the key element of human trafficking offences within the Criminal Code of Canada. Exploitation occurs when someone forces another person to provide labour or a service by having them fear for their safety, or the safety of someone known to them.
  • Traffickers often use violence, intimidation and/or deception to make victims do as they say.7

Why Does Human Trafficking Occur?

  • There is a lot of money involved in human trafficking; the same victim can be used over and over again to make money for the trafficker. It is not like drugs where people can only sell the items once before having to acquire more drugs to sell.
  • If a human trafficker is in the company of the victim, it's very hard to identify that the person needs help just by looking at them. Most of the evidence of the offence would come from the victim's testimony; this can be very difficult to get if the victim or someone known to them have been threatened.
  • Victims don't come forward to the police or organizations for help for a variety of reasons such as; not recognizing they are a victim of human trafficking, lack of knowledge of their rights, lack of trust in police or other organizations to provide help, or threats made to the victim or towards people known to them.
  • North American culture has put an emphasis on hypersexualization in TV ads and programs, the Internet and particularly in music lyrics and videos. It can be easy to be attracted to a pimp (often the victim doesn't know the person is a pimp), and drawn towards their lifestyle as it looks glamorous and exciting.
  • Many traffickers prey on victims who are looking for the promise of a better life, a job opportunity or a romantic relationship.

Warning Signs

Signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking include:

  • Being controlled by others, driven to and from locations, and escorted or watched all the time;
  • Not having a passport or other forms of I.D. in their possession;
  • Not being familiar with the neighbourhood they live or work in;
  • Being moved frequently;
  • Having visible signs of assaults or beatings such as bruises or cuts;
  • Branding with tattoos of the trafficker's name or symbol; and/or,
  • Expressing fear and intimidation through facial expressions or body language.

Victims may:

  • Not know they are being victimized because they have a relationship with their trafficker - it could be their boyfriend or friend;
  • Not appear to need assistance because they have a place to live, food to eat, nice clothes, medical care and even a "paying job";
  • Be unaware of their rights, or may have been intentionally misinformed about their rights so they don't know they can receive help;
  • Be taught to distrust and fear the government and law enforcement officers because they are afraid they will get arrested or deported (if from another country); and/or
  • Fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them, as some traffickers will threaten to harm the victim, their friends or family members if they report their situation to, or cooperate with law enforcement.8


Section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Sections 279.01-04 of the Criminal Code make trafficking in persons (both domestic and international human trafficking situations) illegal in Canada. For more information visit Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking.

In some cases, other offences may apply. Commonly related ones can include: assault, forcible confinement, extortion, living on the avails of prostitution, uttering threats, etc. Every situation is different depending on the specific circumstances of those involved.


The health impacts are very difficult to determine in cases of human trafficking due to the nature of the crime. Many victims suffer trauma and psychological effects. In human trafficking related to sexual exploitation, the victims may be exposed to higher incidences of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

In many cases, traffickers purposely move victims away from their homes, families and/or friends so the victims remain completely dependent on them. This is a control tactic. The victims feel they have nowhere else to turn; subsequently they will do as they are told. Traffickers also threaten the victims or persons known to them such as family members, to retain control over them. The victims often live in constant fear for their safety or that of their family or friends.

What You Can Do

Learn the warning signs of human trafficking and make sure those around you know them as well. It may simply take one person to report suspicious behaviour to uncover cases of human trafficking.

  • The public is the best tool for identifying victims of human trafficking – get to know your community and report any suspicious activity.
  • If you think someone you know is a victim of human trafficking contact your local police or if you wish to report a crime anonymously, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Youth should talk to their parents, guidance counsellor and school liaison officer or call the local police - there are people and services that can help.
  • If you are a victim of human trafficking or you think you may become a victim of human trafficking, call your local police for assistance or to report anonymously, call the Canadian Crime Stoppers national tip line at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Regardless of your status or citizenship in Canada, there are support systems in place available to assist victims.


1  Human Trafficking, Department of Justice

2  What is Human Trafficking?, Department of Justice

3  Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking, RCMP

4  Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking, RCMP

5  What is Human Trafficking?, Department of Justice

6  Canadian Women's Foundation

7  Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, RCMP

8  Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking, RCMP