Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking, and a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor. Canadian women and girls are exploited in sex trafficking across the country, and women and girls from Aboriginal communities and minors in the child welfare system are especially vulnerable. NGOs and law enforcement officials note traffickers sometimes use drug dependency to control victims. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report that roughly half of identified sex trafficking victims worked as exotic dancers or in clubs at the time of their recruitment. Foreign women, primarily from Asia and Eastern Europe, are subjected to sex trafficking in brothels and massage parlors. Law enforcement officials report that local street gangs and transnational criminal organizations are involved in sex trafficking in urban centers. Labor trafficking victims include foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa who enter Canada legally, but are subsequently subjected to forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing plants, restaurants, the hospitality sector, or as domestic servants. Canada is also a source country of tourists who travel abroad to engage in sex acts with children.
The Government of Canada fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In 2013, the government achieved its first conviction for domestic servitude, increased the number of convictions achieved under trafficking statutes compared to the previous year, and launched a dedicated anti-trafficking police unit. Canadian authorities continued strong partnerships with civil society to raise awareness of human trafficking; increased coordination between federal, provincial, and territorial authorities; and demonstrated transparency by issuing their first progress report on the national action plan against trafficking. Few specialized services were available to victims, and the government lacked comprehensive data on trafficking victims identified and assisted during the year.
Recommendations for Canada
Increase specialized care and reintegration services available to trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society and through dedicated funding; continue to intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and sentence trafficking offenders using anti-trafficking laws; increase use of proactive law enforcement techniques to investigate human trafficking, including forced labor; strengthen training for officials working in law enforcement, immigration, the justice sector, health care, and social work on the identification of and provision of assistance to trafficking victims, as well as the subtle forms of coercion employed by traffickers; improve coordination between law enforcement officials and service providers, possibly through specialized case managers or attorneys, to ensure victim needs are met; continue increased communication between federal, provincial, and territorial actors; vigorously investigate and prosecute Canadian child sex tourists; and improve trafficking data collection, particularly regarding victim identification and assistance.
The Government of Canada strengthened law enforcement efforts against human trafficking offenders during the year. Section 279.01 of Canada’s criminal code prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment in the case of certain aggravating factors, such as kidnapping or sexual assault. There is a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking of children under the age of 18 years. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Section 118 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) prohibits transnational human trafficking, prescribing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a fine in the equivalent of approximately $1 million.
Authorities convicted an increased number of traffickers under trafficking-specific statutes compared to the previous year. Some judges and prosecutors demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, including the subtle forms of coercion used by traffickers, leading them to categorize trafficking cases as other crimes, bring civil charges instead of criminal charges, or acquit traffickers. Press reports indicated that in some cases police officers were reluctant to investigate child sex trafficking without victim testimony, despite other available evidence. Police and NGOs reported that prosecutors are often hesitant to use trafficking statutes due to their belief that proving exploitation to judges is exceedingly difficult. In December 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision by the Ontario Court of Appeals, which held that certain federal statutes prohibiting living off the profits of prostitution and operating “bawdy houses” are unconstitutional; these statutes had been frequently used in human trafficking prosecutions.
In addition to ongoing investigations from the previous reporting period, there were at least 42 ongoing human trafficking prosecutions as of February 2014. These prosecutions involved at least 182 accused trafficking offenders, 60 of whom had been charged in 2013. This compares with 77 ongoing trafficking prosecutions during the previous reporting period, involving 130 defendants. The government reported convicting at least 25 trafficking offenders in 2013, including one labor trafficker, compared with at least 30 convictions in 2012, including five for labor trafficking. Of these 25 convictions, 10 were achieved under trafficking-specific laws, an increase from five convictions using trafficking statutes in 2012. Prosecutors convicted at least 15 sex trafficking offenders under other sections of the criminal code, including prostitution-related statutes; this compares with 25 such convictions obtained under such statutes in 2012. The 25 offenders convicted in 2013 had exploited 34 victims, 10 of whom were Canadian children. Sentences ranged from fines to 10 years’ imprisonment; some of these sentences were suspended and credit was given for pre-trial custody. Courts ruled on two high-profile cases involving domestic servitude of foreign victims in British Columbia in 2013, both of which were tried under IRPA. One case resulted in an acquittal by a judge during a bench trial; the other, resulting in a jury decision, was the first conviction for domestic servitude in Canada. Some government and NGO staff viewed these results as a reflection of the lack of understanding of human trafficking on the part of many judges.
Federal and provincial officials conducted training sessions for government officials during the year, and Justice Canada — the justice ministry — distributed a new anti-trafficking handbook for police and prosecutors to all jurisdictions. The RCMP continued extensive anti-trafficking training efforts in 2013 for law enforcement officers, border service officers, and prosecutors, and trained 24 police officers in an in-depth human trafficking investigator’s course. The RCMP and the border service agency each maintained online anti-trafficking training courses. Several provinces operated police units focused on commercial sexual exploitation, and the RCMP launched a national anti-trafficking enforcement unit in Quebec in December 2013. The RCMP employed three regional human trafficking awareness coordinators across the country to strengthen anti-trafficking law enforcement and awareness efforts at the local level. The Canadian government reported collaborating with foreign governments on trafficking investigations. A police sergeant who led a pilot anti-trafficking investigative unit in Hamilton, Ontario was investigated for sexual misconduct involving witnesses in human trafficking cases. Authorities did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Coordination between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts continued to be a challenge; government authorities launched quarterly national coordination calls between officials working on trafficking to enhance communication and cooperation.
The government maintained protections for trafficking victims during the reporting period, though most victim services offered by the government were general services offered to victims of a wide variety of crimes, and there were no government programs specifically designed to serve trafficking victims. Officials did not collect comprehensive statistics on the total number of trafficking victims identified and assisted during the year. As of February 2014, law enforcement reported 198 victims in open cases where trafficking-specific charges were brought, although it was unclear how many of these victims were identified in 2013. The majority of these victims were women and girls exploited in sex trafficking.
Immigration officials continued implementing guidelines to assess whether foreign nationals were potential victims of trafficking and police and prosecutors screened potential trafficking cases using established indicators, although application of these guidelines was uneven. There were no nationwide procedures for other government officials — such as social workers or labor inspectors — to proactively identify and assist trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. Provinces and territories had primary responsibility for enforcing labor standards. Civil society organizations reported that provincial and territorial governments often lacked adequate resources and personnel to effectively monitor the labor conditions of increasing numbers of temporary foreign workers or to proactively identify human trafficking victims among such groups.
Provincial and territorial governments had primary responsibilities for general crime victim services, which were available to trafficking victims. The range and quality of these services varied. Most jurisdictions provided trafficking victims with access to shelter services, short-term counseling, court assistance, and other services. The government did not report funding or operating any dedicated facilities for trafficking victims, but referred victims to shelters operated by civil society organizations. Female trafficking victims could also receive services at shelters designed for victims of violence. Shelters for homeless persons could provide basic services to male trafficking victims. The demand for some services, such as longer-term assisted housing, generally exceeded available resources. Service providers highlighted the need for tailored services to address drug dependency in sex trafficking victims, such as crisis stabilization beds. NGOs and law enforcement reported that the lack of specialized services was problematic and officials sometimes failed to offer victims coordinated and timely protective services. Some family members of child sex trafficking victims reported that these victims were not provided with adequate services or protection from traffickers. NGOs noted that local victim referral mechanisms, often involving an anti-trafficking network or coalition, worked well in practice.
Foreign trafficking victims could apply for a temporary resident permit (TRP) to remain in the country. The government issued 14 TRPs to 14 foreign trafficking victims in 2013, 10 of which were first-term permits and four of which were renewals. In comparison, authorities reported granting 26 TRPs to 24 foreign victims in 2012. Some foreign trafficking victims may have received different forms of immigration relief, such as refugee protection. During a 180-day reflection period, immigration officials determined whether to grant TRP holders a longer residency period of up to three years. TRP holders had access to essential and emergency medical care, dental care, and trauma counseling. TRP holders could apply for fee-exempt work permits, and some foreign victims received these permits during the reporting period. Some government officials and NGOs reported difficulties in getting TRPs for foreign victims due to lack of agreement among service providers, law enforcement officers, and immigration officials about whether or not an individual qualified as a trafficking victim. Furthermore, service providers reported delays in victims receiving TRPs during the year; while victims waited for months to receive their TRPs, they could not access government services, and civil society provided this care. Identified victims were not generally penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Some NGOs expressed concern that the length of labor trafficking investigations could expose foreign victims to immigration violations, depending on their legal status as migrant workers in Canada. Press reports indicated some child sex trafficking victims were treated as juvenile offenders for petty criminal offenses committed while exploited in prostitution. Canadian authorities encouraged, but did not require, trafficking victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders, but did not report how many victims, if any, participated in investigations and prosecutions.
The Government of Canada maintained strong anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. In December 2013, authorities released the first progress report on the implementation of the national action plan on human trafficking, launched in 2012. Public Safety Canada led a federal interagency taskforce that met on a monthly basis. The RCMP continued to conduct awareness-raising activities, training approximately 3,700 government officials and members of civil society in 2013. British Columbia had the only provincial anti-trafficking office in the country; the office conducted prevention, training, and awareness activities using federal funds. In 2013, this office released a provincial anti-trafficking action plan and partnered with Aboriginal communities — including in remote areas — to train stakeholders to identify and respond to human trafficking of Aboriginal women and girls. Provincial governments in Quebec and Alberta continued to partner with NGOs receiving federal funds to coordinate provincial anti-trafficking efforts. In efforts to reduce the use of forced labor, Canadian authorities continued to enforce accountability mechanisms for employers of foreign workers, including through workplace inspections, which could lead to noncompliant employers being deemed ineligible to hire foreign workers for two years. Immigration officials provided information to temporary foreign workers, including live-in caregivers, to let them know where to seek assistance for cases of exploitation or abuse, as well to inform them of their rights. Some NGOs asserted these efforts did not address the root issues that make temporary foreign workers vulnerable to forced labor, and called for increased national oversight of labor brokers and recruiters.
Canada is a source of child sex tourists and the criminal code prohibits Canadian nationals from engaging in child sex tourism abroad, with penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. There were no public reports of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists during the year. Authorities continued to distribute a publication, with every new Canadian passport issued, warning Canadians about penalties under Canada’s child sex tourism law. Canadian authorities provided anti-trafficking information to Canadian military forces prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions. Canadian authorities continued to prosecute individuals who solicited commercial sex.