What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/ or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is often described as a modern form of slavery.

Victims suffer physical or emotional abuse and often live and work in horrific conditions. They may also face fatal consequences if they attempt to escape. This crime represents a consistent and pervasive assault on the fundamental human rights of its victims.

Organized criminal networks, as well as individuals, perpetrate this crime, operating within Canada's borders and internationally. Traffickers reap large profits while robbing victims of their freedom, dignity and human potential at great cost to the individual and society at large. Traffickers control their victims in various ways such as taking away their identity documents and passports, sexual abuse, threats, intimidation, physical violence, and isolation.

Human trafficking is often characterized as a "low risk/high reward activity" because of the fact that the crime is clandestine, therefore difficult to detect and investigate, which contributes to the relatively low prosecution rates worldwide. Victims can be exploited over and over for the financial or material benefit of the traffickers making this crime lucrative. The United Nations (UN) has estimated that this illegal activity generates approximately $32 billion (US) annually for its perpetrators.

Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling and although the crimes may overlap, they require separate legal and policy responses. They may be distinguished in four principal ways. First, human smuggling is always transnational in nature while trafficking in persons need not be. Second, smuggled persons generally consent to being smuggled while trafficked persons can never consent to the conduct which forms the basis of trafficking. Third, smuggled persons are generally free to do what they want once they have arrived in the country of destination. In contrast, trafficked persons have their liberty curtailed and are compelled to provide their labour or services. Finally, smugglers make their profits through the fees associated with their services. Traffickers, on the other hand, profit through exploiting the labour or services of trafficked persons.

For more information on Canadian efforts to combat human trafficking, please see: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/2019-ntnl-strtgy-hmnn-trffc/index-en.aspx.