Understanding Human Trafficking: the first step in fighting it

Often times when we think of human trafficking, our thoughts go straight to what we see in the movies: twenty-something women huddled in a dark house, forced into violent forms of sexual exploitation. That is part of the unfortunate truth, but human trafficking is much more than that and happens at times and places we may not expect.

Take for example, the community-building and proud 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The dark side of international sports events is that they are hubs for human trafficking. It was a heartbreaking sight to walk the streets of the Eastside during the Games and see that despite our best efforts, there were still girls there who had been brought to Vancouver exclusively for the Olympics.

Image source: http://torontostandard.com/industry/business-of-sex-olympics-and-sex-trafficking/

One of these girls was a 12 year-old Aboriginal girl, Grace. Grace was lured from the United States by her Canadian boyfriend to make fast money for him. She had a sweet, innocent and young face, but it was already stained with pain and fear. The young and sweet Grace is not there anymore, but countless other women and girls still are.

Government’s Work on the Issue

Recently, Bill c-452 has been making its way around the debate table. It is a bill centered on a few changes in the Criminal Code of Canada that have to do with human trafficking.

There are a few important changes:

  • The reversal in the burden of proof so that when a person lives with or is “habitually in the company of” an exploited person, it is up to them to prove that they are not a perpetrator of exploitation.
  • The requirement for offenders to serve a trafficking sentence consecutively along with other punishments related to the same series of events.
  • The right for the government to seize the profits of this crime.


Image source: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ht-tp/publications/booklet-brochure-youth-jeunes-eng.pdf

Ending human trafficking is a bipartisan goal; there is no doubt about that. However, fast and hard criminal law is not the complete answer. A real difference can only be made with a political, social and economic agenda attached to it. Resources must be allocated to policing practices, intergovernmental and international cooperation (see the Missing Women Report’s recommendations which are relevant here as well). Of great importance is the aftercare that trafficked persons, especially women and children, require: medical, employment and education services.

You can read the draft of the bill here and see what I have said in the Senate on the issue at 2nd reading and 3rd Reading.

I will be sharing a series of blogs to shed light on the problem of human trafficking here in Canada and around the world. I hope to share with you the work that is being done in Parliament, and what else needs to be done to stop this heinous crime.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is often automatically associated with sexual exploitation, but it is much more than that. To begin to understand human trafficking, it is easiest to see it as part of the even bigger picture: forced labour.

Forced labour is the situation where a person is forced to work against their will. Many different industries are involved in forced labour, most notably the agricultural, domestic, military and sex industries. Private enterprises and individuals are responsible for this crime worldwide, but governments are as well.

The most recent ILO report on forced labour estimates the number of victims of forced labour globally to be at 20.9 million. In other words, in this moment, 1 out of every 1000 persons around the world have been coerced or deceived into jobs where they are held captive.


Image taken from the ILO report – see report for more statistics.

Human trafficking is a type of forced labour.

Actually, specifically defining human trafficking has been at the heart of Canada’s and the international community’s difficulty in combatting it. This is one of the reasons why criminal laws specifically targeting the crime have only started to appear in the books worldwide relatively recently.

With the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which Canada ratified in 2002, the international community is harmonizing it’s understanding of human trafficking. I say “harmonizing” in the present tense, because there are still only 117 signatories to the Protocol.

In it, the definition reads:

“‘Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

It goes on to say that:

“Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”


Image source: http://www.ihrb.org/commentary/ilo-protocol-on-forced-labour-and-human-trafficking.html

Quite plainly, human trafficking is modern slavery. It is a violent act against human dignity that strips a person from their rights and liberties of every kind. There is clearly no room for this activity in a free and democratic society.

Human trafficking can be international, where individuals are forced across state borders, or it can be domestic, where they are forced to move within Canada. However, the most important notion of human trafficking is not the physical movement of a person, but the exploitation.

Trafficking in persons happens here in Canada as well, maybe just next door to you. Just this month, a series of charges were laid after a nine-month long Canada-wide investigation, and a separate arrest was made in Niagara.

Let me know what you think about Bill C-452 by tweeting @SenJaffer.