Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, entails recruiting, transporting, and controlling a person for exploitation purposes such as forced labour or sexual services. It is challenging to measure due to its clandestine nature. Between 2011 and 2021, Canada reported 3,541 human trafficking incidents, with Nova Scotia having the highest rate and Ontario reporting the majority of cases. The Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) criminalize human trafficking in Canada. Under IRPA, traffickers may face up to $1 million in fines, life imprisonment, or both. Under the Code, six specific offences related to human trafficking exist, each with varying penalties, ranging from fines to imprisonment, depending on factors such as the victim's age and the specific nature of the crime. Prosecution requires proof of intentional participation in trafficking activities.
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What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is often described as a modern-day form of slavery. It involves recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/or exercising control over a person's movements to exploit them, usually through sexual services or forced labour. Human trafficking is an offence under the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). The extent of human trafficking, both in Canada and internationally, is challenging to assess due to the hidden nature of the crime, according to Public Safety Canada. Most at-risk include Indigenous females, new immigrants and migrant workers who do not speak French or English and work in remote areas.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 3,541 police-reported incidents of human trafficking in Canada between 2011 and 2021. Nova Scotia had the highest average annual rate of police-reported human trafficking in that period (2.7 incidents per 100,000 population) though 62 percent of all human trafficking incidents were reported in Ontario. "The relatively high number of incidents in Ontario may be attributed to the concentration of urban areas in the province, as such population centres may form part of human trafficking corridors, used by traffickers to increase profits, avoid detection and isolate victims through psychological control," StatsCan information notes. It adds that nine in 10 victims knew their accused trafficker, while an intimate partner trafficked one-third.
How Is it Prosecuted Under the IRPA?
Section 118 of the IRPA makes it a criminal offence to engage in human trafficking. People can be charged if they organize, recruit or transport people into Canada for exploitative purposes. Those convicted of human trafficking under the IRPA can be fined up to $1 million, sentenced to life imprisonment, or both.
Aggravating factors the court will consider include whether:
- injury or death occurred, or the life or safety of any person was endangered;
- the commission of the offence was for the benefit of, or at the direction of a criminal organization;
- if any profit was realized; and
- if a person was subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
How Is it Prosecuted Under the Criminal Code?
The Criminal Code contains six offences that deal with human trafficking. They include kidnapping, forcible confinement, sexual assault and sex trade-related offences. You can be charged with other related offences, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. The six specific offences are:
Trafficking in Persons
Section 279.01 makes it a crime to recruit, transport or harbour a person or exercise control over their movements to exploit them or facilitate their exploitation by someone else. Exploitation is defined as forcing someone to provide labour or services by threatening their safety or the safety of someone else. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of five years where the offence involves kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault and/or death. There is a maximum penalty of 14 years and a mandatory minimum penalty of four years in all other cases.
Trafficking of a person Under 18
Section 279.011 criminalizes the same conduct as the above offence but imposes higher mandatory minimum penalties where the victim is under 18. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and the mandatory minimum penalty is six years if the offence involves kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or death. It carries a maximum penalty of 14 years and a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in all other cases.
Receiving a Financial or Material Benefit - Adult Victim
Subsection 279.02 (1) makes it a crime to receive financial or other material benefits from human trafficking. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment if prosecuted by indictment and two years less a day on summary conviction.
Receiving a Financial or Other Material Benefit - Child Victim
Subsection 279.02 (2) criminalizes the same conduct as the above offence but imposes a higher maximum penalty and a mandatory minimum penalty where the victim is under 18 years. There is a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of two years.
Withholding or Destroying Documents - Adult Victim
Subsection 279.03 (1) makes it a crime to withhold or destroy a person's identity documents, regardless of whether they are authentic or forged, for the purposes of human trafficking. A conviction results in a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment if prosecuted by indictment and two years less a day on summary conviction.
Withholding or Destroying a Person's Identity Documents - Child Victim
Subsection 279.03 (2) criminalizes the same conduct as the above offences but imposes a higher maximum penalty and a mandatory minimum penalty where the victim is under 18 years. There is a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of one year.
What Has to be Proven to Convict
For the Crown prosecutor to win a conviction, the court must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that you were involved in human trafficking, in such roles as recruiting, transporting or housing those being exploited. One of the essential elements that must be proven is that you intentionally and/or knowingly committed the offence.