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Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking



What is the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling?

Human trafficking and human smuggling are not the same thing. The differences are as follows:

Human Trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation (typically in the sex industry or for forced labour). Traffickers use various methods to maintain control over their victims, including force, sexual assault, threats of violence and physical or emotional abuse. Human trafficking may occur across or within borders, may involve extensive organized crime networks, and is clearly a violation of the basic human rights of its victims. The relationship between the trafficker and the victim is continuous and extends beyond the border crossing. Victims may be forced into labour, prostitution or some other form of servitude. Victims may suffer abuse from their traffickers and may face severe consequences if they attempt to escape.

A distinction between international and domestic human trafficking is made by the RCMP for law enforcement purposes in order to determine the application of the appropriate piece of legislation as well as determine the jurisdictions based on law enforcement mandates. The RCMP defines these two concepts as follows:

Domestic Human Trafficking refers to any victim of human trafficking who is trafficked within Canada (regardless of the victim's status).

International Human Trafficking refers to any victim of human trafficking who, in the process of being trafficked, crossed an international border (regardless of the victim's status).

Human smuggling is a form of illegal migration involving the organized transport of a person across an international border, usually in exchange for a sum of money and sometimes in dangerous conditions. When the final destination is reached the business relationship ends, and the smuggler and the individual part company. In some cases, a person who has agreed to be smuggled into a country becomes a trafficking victim at the hands of the smuggler.

Who would be vulnerable to becoming a victim of domestic or international HT in Canada?

Vulnerable populations at risk of becoming trafficked include migrant workers, new immigrants, youth, Aboriginal women and girls, those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, or those who may have been lured to urban centres or have gone of their own free will with the hopes of bettering their lives. Convictions for human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation demonstrate that Canadian girls and women are often victims.

What is the scope of human trafficking in Canada and internationally?

Canada has been identified as a transit and destination country for human smuggling. The extent of human trafficking is difficult to assess due to the clandestine nature of these offences, the reluctance of victims/witnesses to come forward to law enforcement and the difficulty in distinguishing between human trafficking victims and illegal migrants. Canada is also a country where domestic trafficking for sexual exploitation prevails.

Who are the traffickers?

The involvement of transnational organized crime groups in human trafficking is part of a growing global trend. Human trafficking generates huge profits for criminal organizations, which often have operations extending from the source to the destination countries. These transnational crime networks also utilize smaller, decentralized criminal groups that may specialize in recruiting, transporting or harbouring victims. Human trafficking is also known to be perpetrated by small family criminal groups who control the entire operation. Individuals working independently also traffic persons for profit/personal gain.

How are victims recruited and controlled?

Traffickers approach potential victims in a variety of manners including:

  • direct contact with the person
  • direct contact with family and relatives
  • agents who scout for potential victims in source regions, sometimes representing themselves as a potential sponsor or love interest
  • misleading advertisements promising jobs and opportunity
  • contact on the internet

More abusive methods are also used and range from:

  • coerced compliance
  • extortion
  • kidnapping
  • servitude
  • violence, including physical and emotional abuse

Human trafficking may occur locally or domestically, without any movement, such as within the same city.
In international cases, victims may be transported by plane, boat, train or any type of vehicle, and often a combination of them, using genuine and/or fraudulent documents that are usually removed from them upon arrival at their destination.
Victims may be isolated and/or taken to illicit businesses where they may be subjected to physical and sexual abuse and concealment. They may be forced to perform a variety of services including working in the sex trade, factories, restaurants, agriculture, or providing domestic work.

How would I recognize a victim? (Usually includes a combination of indicators).
  • they may be controlled or intimidated by someone else (i.e. being escorted or watched)
  • they may not speak on their own behalf and may not be English/French speaking
  • they may not have a passport or other I.D.
  • they may not be familiar with the neighborhood they live/work in
  • they may be moved frequently by their traffickers
  • they may have injuries/bruises from beatings and/or weapons
  • they may show visible signs of torture i.e. cigarette burns, cuts
  • they may show visible signs of branding or scarring (indicating ownership by the trafficker)
  • they may show signs of malnourishment
  • they may express fear and intimidation through facial expressions and/or body language

There are very few clear black and white indicators of human trafficking. 

Where would I find a victim who has been trafficked for sexual exploitation?

Victims may be found anywhere in Canada.  Some basic examples include:

  • nightclubs/bars
  • modeling studios
  • hospitals
  • escort services
  • massage parlours
  • shelters
  • private residences
  • internet
Where would I find a victim who has been trafficked for forced labour?

Victims can be found anywhere in Canada.  Some basic examples include:

  • non-unionized industries
  • restaurants
  • commercial agriculture sites
  • construction sites
  • domestic servitude
Considering the clandestine nature of human trafficking, how does law enforcement learn of potential cases to investigate?

Information may be obtained from:

  • the public reporting suspicious activities including the reporting of missing persons/children to police
  • government agencies and non-government organizations (i.e. working at ports of entry or dealing with health and social services)
  • international agencies working in partnership to combat human trafficking
  • victims escaping from traffickers
  • law enforcement conducting criminal investigations.

It is also the responsibility of law enforcement to seek out and identify potential victims through awareness initiatives and investigations.

What is the role of law enforcement in addressing human trafficking?
  • identify children and adults at risk
  • inform potential victims of their rights
  • identify and investigate criminal elements of circumstances and seek to prosecute individuals involved in human trafficking
  • refer potential victims who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to learn of their options regarding immigration status
  • identify support services and refer victims/potential victims to specialist non-government organizations that may assist with finding safe accommodation, and various needs including medical, psychological, legal assistance, education, and work placement
  • conduct interviews, seek intelligence, undertake investigations with immigration officials and any other appropriate parties, and ensure that links are made with other agencies and national/international policing organizations
  • provide protection to victims and staff supporting them
  • work closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, provincial/territorial and municipal agencies, social services, child welfare authorities and any non-government organizations involved in service delivery to provide protection to victims, including children
  • conduct a continuous risk assessment with respect to the safety and welfare of the victims and their families at every stage of the investigation and judicial process and beyond
  • enforce the laws of Canada including those in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) Section 118, and the Criminal Code, Section 279.01-279.03 (Section 279 is kidnapping).
What enforcement powers do the human trafficking Criminal Code provisions give law enforcement?

Sections 279.01-279.04 contain four indictable offences which specifically address human trafficking:

  • Section 279.01 prohibits anyone from recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring a person, or exercising control or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person (maximum penalty: life where it involves the kidnapping, aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault, or death of the victim and 14 years in any other case);
  • Section 279.011prohibits anyone from recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring a person under the age of eighteen years, or exercising control or influence over the movements of a person under the age of eighteen years, for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person (maximum penalty: life and a minimum of 6 years where it involves the kidnapping, aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault, or death of the victim; maximum penalty: 14 years and a minimum of 5 years in any other case);
  • Section 279.02 prohibits anyone from receiving a financial or other material benefit for the purpose of committing or facilitating the exploitation of that person (maximum penalty: 10 years);
  • Section 279.03 prohibits the withholding or destruction of documents, such as a victim's travel documents or documents establishing their identity, for the purpose of committing or facilitating the exploitation of that person (maximum penalty: 5 years).
  • Section 279.04 defines exploitation as causing a person to provide, or offer to provide, labour or services by engaging in conduct that leads the victim to reasonably fear for their safety or that of someone known to them, if they fail to comply. It would apply to the use of force, deception or other forms of coercion causing the removal of a human organ or tissue.
  • Section 7(4.11) states thateveryone who, outside Canada, commits an act or omission that if committed in Canada would be an offence against section 279.01, 279.011, 279.02 or 279.03 shall be deemed to commit that act or omission in Canada if the person who commits the act or omission is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

These Criminal Code sections complement the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act trafficking offence and existing trafficking-related Criminal Code provisions. These offences enable law enforcement to address not only international but also domestic human trafficking cases. Human trafficking does not require the crossing of borders or any movement at all. Exploitation is the key element of the offence. Canadian law enforcement has a significantly enhanced ability to ensure that charges - whether under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or the Criminal Code - best respond to the facts of a specific human trafficking investigation. 

For specific legislative wordings on S. 7(4.11) and S. 279.01 to 279.04, refer to

What training is available for law enforcement to enhance their investigative skills regarding human trafficking?

National and international conferences expose participants to best practices, roundtables, discussions, workshops and seminars to raise awareness of human trafficking.

Information pertinent to training for police regarding cases of missing persons/children can be obtained through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR).

The RCMP's Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre has developed a Human Trafficking Tool Kit available to all law enforcement officers across Canada. One of the main objectives is to inform investigators of the human trafficking legislation.

An informative and detailed "Human Trafficking Reference Guide for Canadian Law Enforcement" is available.

The RCMP's Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC) has developed an online training course for law enforcement that is available through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) at
The RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC) in collaboration with the Canadian Police College has developed a Human Trafficking Investigator's Course for Canadian law enforcement.

British Columbia's Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) developed an on-line training course for front line service providers. It can be accessed by visiting Human Trafficking: Canada is Not Immune.

Where can I find more information on human trafficking?

For more information, visit

How can I help?

If you or someone you know is being exploited, contact your local police.

If you or someone you know needs help, speak to a trusted adult (family member, teacher or school counselor), or contact a counselor anonymously at the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or online at

If you wish to report a crime anonymously, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Remember, do not take the law into your own hands or get involved in any illegal activities.