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Human Trafficking in Canada: A Threat Assessment

Human Trafficking in Canada

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Executive Summary

Project SECLUSION was prepared for the Immigration and Passport Branch as a national overview of human trafficking activities in an effort to identify the extent of organized crime involvement, transnational associations, source countries, as well as issues and challenges faced by law enforcement. This report also serves as a preliminary baseline of human trafficking activities affecting Canada in both the transnational and domestic perspectives.

Issues identified in this assessment were the result of a thorough analysis of investigations with human trafficking elements which occurred between 2005 and 2009. In order to establish consistency, the analysis was framed by the definition of human trafficking as set by the Criminal Code (CC) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).

Key Findings

  • Recent convictions of human trafficking have mostly involved victims who are citizens and/or permanent residents of Canada trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
  • Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been mostly associated with organized prostitution occurring discreetly behind fronts, like escort agencies and residential brothels. Such establishments are extremely difficult for law enforcement to detect without proactive investigations.
  • Many human trafficking suspects have been linked to other organized criminal activities, such as conspiracy to commit murder, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, and organized prostitution, in Canada or abroad.
  • Human trafficking suspects usually share similar ethnicity with their associates and have ethnic ties to source countries of their migrant workers.
  • Human trafficking investigations have found that foreign national sex workers who engage illegally in the sex trade are vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked.
  • Suspected transnational trafficking networks are believed to have operators based in source countries to facilitate the recruitment and transport segments of the trafficking process. Some organizers likely provide high quality false travel documents for migrants to travel deceptively to Canada.
  • Organized crime networks with Eastern European links have been involved in the organized entry of women from former Soviet States into Canada for employment in escort services in the Greater Toronto Area and possibly in massage and escort services in the Montreal area. These groups have demonstrated transnational capabilities and significant associations with convicted human traffickers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belarus, and Israel.
  • Human trafficking has been identified in bawdy houses operated by Asian prostitution rings. The establishments are discreet and staffed solely by Asian migrants or persons of Asian descent.
  • Asian sex workers have been observed to travel inter-provincially between Canadian cities and possibly to the U.S, to prostitute in bawdy houses.
  • Major Canadian cities with an established network of Asian organized crime are destinations for migrant sex workers from Asia. Organized crime groups operate multiple bawdy houses across a city and some are believed to associate with prostitution rings in other cities.
  • Investigations found that Asian sex workers are not necessarily recruited from overseas. Most foreign nationals that were found working in bawdy houses had entered Canada legally and looked for sex work after they arrived in Canada.
  • Some convicted offenders of domestic human trafficking were found to be affiliated to street gangs known to law enforcement for their pimping culture. It is unknown if human trafficking is an organized gang activity or motivated independently by financial gain.
  • Domestic human trafficking victims have mostly been recruited through the Internet or by an acquaintance. The victims were groomed, manipulated, and coerced to enter the sex trade.
  • Some victims of domestic human trafficking have been underage girls exploited through prostitution in exotic dance clubs and/or escort services. Control tactics employed by traffickers to retain victims in exploitative situations include social isolation, forcible confinement, withholding identification documents, imposing strict rules, limitation of movement, as well as threats and violence.
  • African nationals who were identified as victims of human trafficking were trafficked for sexual exploitation outside of and before arriving in Canada. Some of these identified victims may have been brought to Canada by their traffickers with the intention to further exploit them.
  • Significant human trafficking indicators were identified in some cases involving foreign national domestic workers who were smuggled into Canada by their employers. These live-in domestic workers were controlled, threatened, underpaid, and forced to work by their employers.
  • The RCMP has not identified organized crime involvement in human trafficking for labour exploitation. Labour trafficking investigations involved individuals or family units taking advantage and exploiting foreign workers for personal gain.

Strategic Considerations

  • Canada’s visa-exemption policies have been exploited by criminal groups to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals for illegal employment in the sex trade. Investigations have identified the exploitation of Israeli, Estonian, Latvian, and Korean passports for this purpose.
  • Intelligence suggests that human trafficking suspects who engage in the same avenue within the sex trade are likely associated. These suspects have been found to use similar control tactics and methods of operation; however their level of cooperation is unconfirmed.
  • The majority of Asian national sex workers found in bawdy houses had entered Canada with visitor or student visas, some of whom were found to have overstayed their visas.
  • Many victims or potential victims in human trafficking investigations believed that if they did not comply to exploitation, their employers would have been capable of inflicting harm on family members in Canada or overseas, while those engaged in sex work feared that their employers would disclose to their families that they were prostituting in Canada.
  • Technological advances allowed individuals or criminal networks involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation to recruit and advertise victims, particularly underage girls, remotely and discreetly via the Internet.
  • Traffickers are suspected of exploiting illicit drug dependencies as a way to recruit and control sex trade workers. Illicit drug addictions may increase a sex trade worker’s vulnerability to further exploitation and trafficking.
  • Regulations are lacking to ensure fair business practices and legitimacy of third party companies that lease or recruit foreign workers on behalf of Canadian employers. Some of these businesses were found to have manipulated the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program through misrepresentation and fraud for financial gain.