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A Handbook for Criminal Justice Practitioners on Trafficking in Persons

3. Guidelines for Police

3.1 Introduction

This chapter focuses on the role of the police in human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.  It provides information on conducting interviews with victims of human trafficking, with a particular focus on the unique considerations that exist in these cases. Common indicators of human trafficking are also identified with a view to aiding in the identification of human trafficking and the collection of evidence.  Guidelines on the assessment of risk in particular cases are also examined.  Finally, information is provided on how to lay a charge and prepare a report for Crown counsel. Considerations related to international human trafficking cases are also discussed.  The chapter’s overarching objective is to supplement a police officer’s expertise by providing information that is particularly relevant to human trafficking.

3.2 Victim Interview

The establishment of a good rapport prior to conducting interviews may help to avoid conflicting statements and may increase the victim’s willingness to testify in court. Inconsistent statements are not uncommon and do not necessarily indicate that the victim lacks credibility.

A victim interview is not an interrogation.  Victims of crime should be treated with respect, compassion and courtesy.  The goal of the interview should be to gain the trust of the victim and instil in them a sense of security, while gathering the necessary facts related to potential criminal charges.

Always use proper interview techniques and, when possible, use an experienced interviewer.  When appropriate, use an interpreter and provide any other victim services.  Videotaping the interview is critically important.  Videotaped statements may be admitted as evidence under either subsection 540(7) or the principled exception to the hearsay rule as well as, in the case of children, pursuant to section 715.1 of the Criminal Code.

3.2.1 Victim Mindset

Being sympathetic and attempting to understand the issues that affect the victim(s) will help establish a good rapport (e.g., by asking “What can I do for you?”, “Is there anything I can do to help you to feel safer?” and even “Are you hungry?”).  The officer is looking for ways to help remove the obstacles that trap the victim in their situation.

Some victims will not respond truthfully to questions, others will provide prepared and rehearsed responses, and others will not talk at all.  Some reasons a victim may not respond or tell the truth are that she or he may:

In cases of foreign national victims, they may worry about their immigration status in Canada and/or fear removal.  They may be also concerned about the continued availability of social services due to their legal status in Canada.

3.2.2 Victim-Trafficker Mindset

To better understand the mindset of trafficking victims, it is important to be aware of the victim-trafficker relationship.

“Sometimes victims are referred or introduced to the trafficker by friends and relatives.” Footnote 40  This personal connection often results in the victims having an emotional bond with traffickers.  In other cases, emotional bonds can be formed, including through a process of “grooming” victims, which can be used to successfully manipulate victims. In extreme cases, emotional bonding may be evidence of Stockholm Syndrome.

This Syndrome — where a victim emotionally bonds with an abuser — is a survival strategy for victims of abuse and intimidation, and has been exhibited in cases of human trafficking.  Every syndrome has particular symptoms and behaviours, and Stockholm Syndrome is no exception.  While a clear-cut list has not been established due to varying opinions of researchers and experts, several of these features are often present:

It has been found that four situations or conditions are typically present and serve as a foundation for the development of Stockholm Syndrome:

For more information on this issue, please refer to chapters 3 and 4 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Anti-Human Trafficking Manual for Criminal Justice Practitioners. Footnote 42

3.2.3 Victim’s Basic Needs

Whenever possible, ensure that the victim’s basic needs are met before trying to interview them; this will usually be done with the assistance of service providers:

3.2.4 Preparation for the Interview

When possible, carefully prepare for the interview by learning as much as you can about the victim beforehand.  Be patient and wait until the victim is prepared for the interview; ensure that their needs have been met and concerns addressed, and that a level of trust and good rapport have been established. Law enforcement may have to meet with the victim on several occasions over a period of time to build trust and rapport prior to conducting a formal interview.  This may not be possible when law enforcement must proceed quickly:  for example, in cases where other victims are in danger, or where perpetrators may flee or evidence be destroyed.  In these cases, follow-up interviews may be required.

Once the victim is ready for the interview, ensure that they understand:

For more information about working with victims, see this guide from the Policy Centre for Victim Issues.

3.2.5 Establishing Trust

Trust between investigator and witness is always required, particularly when the witness is also a victim.  Officers may need to explain how policing works, and their role as police officers, to establish credibility and build trust.

Interviewers should keep in mind that establishing a rapport and earning a victim’s trust will help victims to be more open and to feel more comfortable about providing information.

To establish trust, explain the purpose of the interview, as well as the roles of the interviewer and the victim.  Ask the victim whether they would be more comfortable in the presence of a female or male interviewer.

3.2.6 Free Narrative

Most victims have trouble recalling and talking about particular events due to the impacts of trafficking.  The main purpose of free narrative is to encourage the victim to recall and talk about relevant events in their own words.  Avoid the temptation to jump in if the victim stops talking and a moment of silence occur.  The victim may simply be attempting to gather their thoughts and trying to recount events in their own mind.  Give them the time to do that.  Often they will just start talking again without any further questions.

Open questions should be used, for example:

3.2.7 Clarification Questioning

If further detail is needed following the free narrative, use clarifying questions.

3.2.8 Closing

This phase gives the victim a chance to correct any misunderstandings during the interview.

You may wish to offer a written or electronic resource to the victim as they may not recall all the information provided to them.  Here is one example from the Policy Centre for Victim Issues:

3.2.9  Interview Questions

As noted above, it may be necessary to conduct a number of interviews to obtain a complete picture of events.  Be sure to ask the victim for information that could potentially corroborate other evidence or lead to the collection of corroborative evidence.  Simple questions about the layout of the location where the victim worked, for instance, daily routines and other more general matters can help establish their credibility.

For a list of suggested questions, please contact the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre at: 1-855-850-4640 or

3.3 Dealing with Children

Working with child victims of any crime is challenging.  Children are particularly vulnerable due to their lack of experience and their dependence on and/or trust of adults.  Traffickers use various methods of recruitment to lure vulnerable children into exploitative situations such as enticing them with a “glamorous” life-style and opportunities to make money.

Trafficking cases involving children are always complex.  When working with any potential child victim, provincial and territorial ministries or child protection agencies must be contacted.  Investigators should always videotape interviews with children (recall s. 715.1 of the Criminal Code).  Try to use an officer trained to interview children and should consider:

3.3.1 Runaway children are vulnerable to traffickers

3.3.2 Recruitment locations can include anywhere that youth hang out

3.3.3 Specific Concerns regarding Children Brought to Canada

Everyone, including a child, who arrives in Canada from abroad must appear for an examination by an officer to determine whether they have a right to enter Canada or whether they are authorized to enter and remain in Canada.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada has developed a procedures manual entitled Recovering Missing, Abducted and Exploited Children.  Officers are instructed on the proper procedures to follow during primary inspection and, when suspicions arise to refer the child and any accompanying adult for secondary inspection.  Where there is suspicion of a criminal offence, officers are instructed to immediately contact law enforcement.

For more information on the measures in place at Canadian Ports of Entry to ensure that exploited children, or children at risk of exploitation, are identified and protected, please see:

3.3.4 Suggested Tips for Investigators

As an investigator involved in human trafficking related investigations it is important that you:

3.3.5  Support to the Victim

It is important for law enforcement to develop and maintain partnerships, and work with local service providers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to ensure that victims’ needs are met; this can include access to food, shelter and medical attention, as well as addressing their safety concerns.

If you are not aware of local services, you can search here in the Policy Centre for Victim Issues’ Victim Services Directory.

Ensuring that good partnerships are in place in your community ensures that victims’  needs are met by those qualified to do so, while allowing police resources to be used for investigations.

If the victim does not speak English or French, ensure an accredited interpreter/translator is available.

3.4 Access to Services

In Canada, responsibility for the protection of victims of crime is shared between the federal and provincial/territorial governments.  Numerous programs and services are available to victims of crime, including trafficking.  These range from health care to emergency housing, and social and legal assistance.  Legal-aid programs are administered separately by each province and territory, and eligibility is based primarily on financial need.  Similarly, social services such as emergency financial assistance, including food allowances and housing, are administered at the provincial and territorial levels and are available to those in need.

For more information on available victims services, please see Chapter 6. Law enforcement may also contact the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre at: 1 855 850-4640 or

If interpretation services are required and an interpreter/translator is not available for the initial meeting, consider utilizing the Victim-Translation-Assistance (VITA) tool.  VITA is a unique tool using audio messages that enables law enforcement or service providers to provide a level of basic assistance to victims of human trafficking in 44 languages. The VITA tool is not meant as a substitute for proper translation/interpretation.  The VITA tool can be downloaded from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking website at:

3.5 Working with Traumatized Victims Footnote 43

Trauma occurs when a victim lives through an experience so extreme that they cannot completely comprehend or accept it. Consequently, it falls so far outside the victim’s own system of values for human behaviour that they cannot rationalize it and may even deny that it ever happened.  Key symptoms of trauma likely to have serious implications include:

Due to these types of trauma, one of the optimal methods for working with victims is to help them feel stable by providing security and assistance.  Another method is to start the investigation after the victim feels that they are in a stable situation.

Expert support may be required in several different forms.  Victims of trafficking often require a lot of support following their ordeal.  Support for victims can be provided by non-governmental organizations to meet victims’ practical needs for food and shelter. They can also arrange psychological support, translations services, immigration information, etc.  Often, the NGO community has more of the expertise needed to provide these services than law enforcement does.  Some communities also have government programs and services available to victims.

3.6 Foreign National Victims

Foreign national victims brought to Canada may be more vulnerable to exploitation because they may have little or no knowledge of Canadian customs, laws and human rights, and this lack of knowledge may be used by the trafficker to compel the victim to provide their labour or service.  Victims may react with fear, suspicion, scepticism, distrust, hesitation and/or hostility towards outsiders, especially law enforcement.  They may worry about their immigration status in Canada and/or fear deportation.  They may also be concerned about the continued availability of services in Canada.

Foreign national victims brought to Canada may have different needs than Canadian citizens or permanent residents.  Under normal circumstances, a person who does not have status in Canada does not have access to services.  Citizenship & Immigration Canada has developed a Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) for foreign nationals who are believed to be victims of human trafficking.  TRP status provides access to Interim Federal Health Care, counselling services and the opportunity to apply for a work permit.  There are both short-term (valid for up to 180 days) and long-term TRPs.  To be eligible for a short-term TRP, a person must be a suspected trafficking victim; to be eligible for long-term a TRP, reasonable evidence of trafficking is required.  Victims are not required to collaborate with law enforcement agencies or testify against their traffickers to obtain TRPs.  Law enforcement should notify the Canada Border Services Agency when dealing with a foreign national victim without status.

3.7 Collecting Evidence

3.7.1 Indicators: Sexual Exploitation or Forced Labour

In addition to the above signs, child victims of human trafficking may:

3.7.2 Control Tactics Used by Traffickers

3.8 Risk Assessment

Throughout human trafficking investigations and court proceedings, the safety of the victim or witness must be continually assessed based on all relevant facts and circumstances known to the officer.

When investigating incidents of human trafficking and working with victims:

When working with child victims, contact the relevant child protection agency.

The safety of victims and witnesses is the police’s main priority.  Ensure that victims are located where the trafficker cannot find them.  Ensure the shelter has security measures in place; consider moving them to another city or province, if necessary.

Investigators conducting the assessment should consider the following questions: Footnote 44

  1. What level of risk do the identified victim (s) and those known to them face?
  2. Are other victims still being exploited? If so, what level of risk do they face?
  3. Are others at risk of being trafficked? If so, what level of risk do they face?
  4. Is the level of risk posed to any victim high enough that it demands some form of immediate intervention?

Investigators need to consider not only the existing level of risk posed to the safety and welfare of the victims and their loved ones, but also possible risks that may arise as a result of the police response — e.g., any additional risks arising as a result of a decision to launch a raid or investigation.

3.8.1 Levels of Risk Footnote 45

There are three levels of risk:

Assessing the level of any given risk relies upon the professional judgment of the investigator, as well as all available information.

3.8.2 Considerations for International Victims Footnote 46

Foreign national victims should not be deported or repatriated if this places them at serious risk of harm; these risks need be identified and assessed.

It is important to consider any social, cultural or religious factors that may make repatriation dangerous.  These issues need to be discussed with the victim and may inform considerations about whether the victim will remain in Canada.

The availability of support services in the victim’s country of origin should also be considered.  No details about a victim’s situation should be shared with support agencies without the victim’s consent.  For example, the victim may not want any exploitation as a prostitute to be disclosed to an official body in his or her home country.  Sharing this information may also create a risk of reprisal or re-trafficking when family members were implicated in the original trafficking.

If using victim support services within the country of origin, try to ensure that the agency has the capacity to assist the victim.  The security and capacity of support organizations is variable and must be assessed in each case.

3.9 Witness Protection

Federal Witness Protection Program Act

The Federal Witness Protection Program Act (WPPA) is administered by the RCMP.  It provides the legal framework to protect persons who are involved in providing assistance to law enforcement.  This can include persons who are assisting the RCMP in law enforcement matters or those who are assisting another law enforcement agency, provided an agreement has been entered into between the RCMP and that agency. Services offered to witnesses/victims are decided on a case-by-case basis but can include relocation, accommodation, change of identity, counselling, and financial support to ensure the person's security and help them re-establish their life and become self-sufficient.  Canadian law enforcement agencies refer and then work with the federal WPPA when a victim/witness of human trafficking is deemed eligible under the terms of the program.

In Canada, some provinces operate legislated (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan), policy-based (Ontario and Québec), or operationally structured (British Columbia, in an integrated team) witness protection programs.  A victim of human trafficking could be deemed eligible under the terms of either the federal or provincial programs to receive protection in order to assist law enforcement and prosecution.

Canada's broad legal framework also includes a variety of provisions to assist a victim or witness to testify in a criminal proceeding against a trafficker.  Research demonstrates that when victims are supported through the criminal justice process, there is an increased likelihood that they will support the prosecution.

In Canada, a victim is not required to assist with the investigation or prosecution of alleged traffickers, nor is victim access to support services and assistance dependent upon his/her cooperation or support of an investigation/prosecution.  Nonetheless, victim support for criminal prosecution is encouraged through the provision of services and assistance to victims throughout the criminal justice process.  Toward this end, Canada’s Criminal Code contains numerous provisions to facilitate a victim’s/witness’ participation in a criminal proceeding.  These include:

As part of the investigative process, it will be important to understand the basis upon which these testimonial aids can be accessed.  Victim-services organizations can provide information to victims on these provisions.  For more information on these provisions, please see chapter 4.  For more information on available victims services in your jurisdiction, please see chapter 6.

Canada has laws to protect victims against intimidation or retaliation if they report these criminal offences or testify against their trafficker.  It is an offence to intimidate a justice system participant (a victim or witness) and is punishable by a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

3.10 Laying a charge

Decisions to charge and prosecute criminal offences in Canada are made by the police force of a jurisdiction and/or relevant Attorneys General.  The vast majority of criminal offences are investigated and prosecuted in Canada at the local/provincial level and charging and prosecutions practices vary by jurisdiction.  In three provinces, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick, decisions to lay Criminal Code charges must first be approved by provincial prosecutors; in other jurisdictions, charges can be laid directly by the police.  Prosecutions under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are carried out by the Attorney General of Canada.

Despite the differences in charging practices, all decisions to prosecute in Canada are guided by a two-stage test Footnote 47:  (1) whether there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction in proceedings to be instituted and or continued; and, (2) if so, does the public interest require a prosecution to be pursued.  Police officers are encouraged to liaise with crown counsel during their investigations.  It is recommended that a prosecutor be identified early on in the investigation or as soon as investigations have identified the case as a human trafficking event.  The prosecutor shall be consulted throughout the investigation and be part of the decision-making process regarding the speed, flow and direction of the investigation.  Ideally a second prosecutor should be identified to review all relevant applications to obtain search and/or productions warrants.

Charges are laid based on the evidence in each individual case. Other charges that might be considered could include prostitution-related offences, such as procuring a person to provide sexual services, assault, forcible confinement, uttering threats, etc.

Samples of the wording for laying the information are shown below:

Criminal Code Section 279.01

Section 279.02

Section 279.03

IRPA — Section 118

How or whether the document is particularized will depend on the facts of the case.

3.11 Report to Crown Counsel

A report to Crown Counsel will come in different formats throughout the country; it is essentially a written document outlining the details of the investigation.  It provides the evidence of the accusations in the case, including evidence that establishes the elements of the offence.  In preparing the Report, include all evidence in support of the recommended charges, as well as witness lists and statements, and exhibit lists.  As is well known, the Crown is required to disclose, in a timely manner, all relevant information in the possession of the police and the Crown to the accused to permit them to make full answer and defence.

3.12 Pre-Bail and Post-Bail Considerations

A police officer’s assistance at the pre-bail and post-bail stage is critical.  Assistance in building the case for pre-trial detention, investigating possible sureties or associates while also engaging in proactive monitoring of an accused to ensure that they are complying with their conditions, are all important aspects of an officer’s role at this stage.  More information on these matters is contained in Chapter 4.

Accused will often be released from custody with conditions imposed upon them by the courts.  Depending on the release conditions, they may be monitored to confirm that they are abiding with their restrictions.  This can be a vulnerable time for victims if accused do not abide by their conditions, specifically “no contact” conditions.  A breach of conditions is chargeable under a separate offence.

3.13 Sureties to Keep the Peace

Investigators should also keep in mind the possibility of seeking a “peace bond” against an individual.  Peace bonds require an individual to agree to specific conditions to keep the peace.  These instruments are available to police to protect the public by preventing a criminal offence from being committed.  A peace bond may be issued when it is feared, on reasonable grounds, that another person will commit certain offences.

Every peace bond includes an order to keep the peace.  In addition, the judge may impose any other reasonable condition necessary to secure the good conduct of the defendant.  This is important because it enables the judge to craft the order to respond to the particular circumstances of the defendant and the particular risks that they pose to public safety.

3.14 Obtaining Foreign Evidence/Assistance

Where evidence relevant to a Canadian criminal investigation is located abroad, the laws and procedures that exist in that country will determine the mechanism through which to seek the evidence.  In many cases, foreign states will share evidence with Canadian police through direct agency-to-agency channels, including through Interpol.

Examples of the types of materials and assistance that are generally accessible through agency-to-agency channels are the following:  public records, including records of business incorporation, records in a court file that is not sealed, interviews of cooperating witnesses or accused/suspects, copies of criminal records, assistance in locating a suspect/witness, copies of information in foreign police files or in the possession of the foreign police, assistance in conducting police surveillance or undercover measures that do not require court authorization, passport, border and immigration records.

Where the foreign state declines to assist a Canadian investigator through informal agency-to-agency channels, but is able to assist through the formal mutual legal assistance process, the following considerations apply:

  1. Is there a mutual legal assistance treaty or convention in place between Canada and the foreign state that covers the type of assistance sought?
  2. If not, will the foreign state assist pursuant to a non-treaty letter of request (i.e., a formal request for assistance that is transmitted by the Department of Justice Canada to its foreign counterpart in accordance with international comity)?

Canada is party to 35 bilateral mutual legal-assistance treaties and many multilateral conventions that contain provisions for mutual legal assistance, including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

Although practices vary from country to country, most jurisdictions require a formal mutual legal-assistance request where court authorization is required to obtain the evidence or provide the assistance (e.g., search and seizure; compelling witness statements and/or testimony, including by video-link, obtaining Internet Service Provider records, obtaining bank or telephone records, enforcing criminal fines or orders of restraint or forfeiture).  Some countries will also require that Canadian authorities pursue evidence through a mutual legal-assistance request where the evidence is sought for prosecution purposes.

Investigators should also be mindful of the following:

  1. Caveats on the use that can be made of foreign evidence may be imposed by the foreign state as preconditions to the sharing of the evidence.  In the mutual legal-assistance context, foreign evidence may only be used for the purpose for which it was gathered/seized, unless the foreign state consents to its use for other purposes.
  2. If the execution of a request will attract extraordinary expenses, Canada may be required to pay those costs before the assistance will be granted.

As a general rule, investigators should exhaust all agency-to-agency avenues of cooperation before resorting to the mutual legal-assistance process.

Investigators and/or prosecutors are encouraged to contact the International Assistance Group (IAG) at the Department of Justice Canada before drafting a mutual legal-assistance request.  The IAG’s contact information is the following:

International Assistance Group
Litigation Branch, Criminal Law Division
Department of Justice Canada
284 Wellington Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
Telephone:  613-957-4832
After hours number:  613-851-7891
Fax:  613-957-8412

In addition, investigators may wish to consult Chapter 43 of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s Deskbook Policy on the Mutual Legal Assistance process.

3.15 Extradition to Canada

Canadian prosecution and correctional authorities may seek, from foreign states, the extradition of persons accused or convicted of Canadian criminal offences.  In urgent and time-sensitive circumstances (e.g., where the person is a flight risk or an imminent threat to security), a provisional arrest request may be pursued with the foreign state, followed by a formal extradition request.

All extradition requests and provisional-arrest requests are submitted to the foreign state through the International Assistance Group (IAG) at the Department of Justice Canada.  The IAG acts on behalf of the Minister of Justice as the Central Authority for Canada in all extradition matters.

In general, extradition may only be sought from treaty partners.  Canada is currently party to 51 bilateral extradition treaties and several multilateral conventions containing provisions on extradition, including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

The relevant treaty or convention, along with the law of the foreign state, will determine the criminal conduct that is considered to be extraditable, as well as the procedural and evidentiary requirements to be met when seeking extradition.  These may vary significantly from state to state.

Prosecuting and investigating authorities should consult with the IAG in all cases where extradition is being contemplated.  Consultation should be pursued at the earliest possible opportunity.  The IAG’s contact information is the following:

International Assistance Group
Litigation Branch, Criminal Law Division
Department of Justice Canada
284 Wellington Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
Telephone:  613-957-4832
After hours number: 613-851-7891
Fax:  613-957-8412

In addition, investigators and prosecutors may wish to consult Chapters 40 and 41 of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s Deskbook Policy on the Extradition Process in Canada.