A Handbook for Criminal Justice Practitioners on Trafficking in Persons

5. Sentencing for Human Trafficking Offences

5.1 Introduction

General objectives and principles of sentencing will, of course, guide sentencing outcomes in human trafficking cases.  Under both the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the maximum sentences for human trafficking offences are at the very high end of the penalties prescribed by Canadian law.  These penalties reflect a normative statement by Parliament about the nature and severity of these types of crimes.  At the same time, courts must be guided by the fundamental principle of sentencing; that is, a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.  Crafting an appropriate sentence in any case, let alone a human trafficking case, is no easy task.  This chapter provides a brief overview of the factors that may be relevant in sentencing in human trafficking cases.

5.2 Principles of Sentencing

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:

5.3 Denunciation

The objective of denunciation mandates that a sentence should communicate society’s condemnation of that particular offender’s conduct. Footnote 66  A punishment which reflects the objective of denunciation should also be thought of as a symbolic, collective statement that the offender's conduct should be punished for encroaching on our society's basic code of values enshrined within our substantive criminal law.

In this case, society would wish to denounce in the strongest terms the extreme and degrading violence undertaken by these offenders.  The kidnapping and torture of a young girl over a period of 24 hours obviously warrants a severe sentence to express the denunciation of this court. Footnote 68

5.4 Deterrence

General deterrence is meant to deter other potential offenders from committing crime by making clear that appropriate penalties will be imposed for violations while specific deterrence is meant to convey a message to the particular offender such that they will not be inclined to commit the offence again in the future.

General and specific deterrence are fundamental sentencing goals that are generally common to virtually all sentences imposed by our courts.  A sentence must send a strong and clear message to other like-minded individuals who may be inclined to engage in conduct similar to that of the offender.  The offender must also understand that a repetition of his conduct will draw a similar or even harsher penalty.  Again, this objective is achieved by the duration of the sentence imposed.

In cases of human trafficking where victims are brought to Canada to be exploited, specific considerations with respect to deterrence may arise including, for example, ensuring the integrity of Canada’s borders, protecting Canada’s reputation internationally and that criminals are not using the immigration system to their advantage. Footnote 70

5.5 Separation

Separation ensures that the threat posed by a particular offender, who might not otherwise be rehabilitated or deterred, to society is removed as such individuals will be unable to commit crimes in the community.

Human trafficking involves violence, intimidation and exploitation, and as such, separation from society will often be a necessary component of sentencing:

“Where it is apparent that the offender is a dangerous person, who is likely to compromise public safety if released, he should be detained for a period of time sufficient to reasonably conclude that such danger has subsided.  The duration of the sentence must be sufficient to give the correctional authorities the necessary time to properly treat the offender and for the National Parole Board to assess the risk of his reoffending.” Footnote 71

5.6 Rehabilitation

The objective of rehabilitation recognizes that a sentence should be responsive to the needs of the particular offender so that they can be rehabilitated and cease to be a threat to public safety.

Given that human trafficking offences are coercive and violent, it is still in the public interest for the offenders to participate in rehabilitative programming, even if the programming is offered to an incarcerated offender:

Achieving the rehabilitation of an offender in custody necessarily involves programs, courses and activities designed to educate, retrain and counsel him/her to choose a productive lifestyle after release, rather than to continue on the destructive path he/she was on when convicted. Footnote 72

5.7 Reparation and Responsibility

Because of the nature of the harm to the victims, there is often little that can be done by the offender by way of reparation.  That said, the Criminal Code provisions dealing with restitution, section 738, provide a mechanism that can contribute to returning the victim, in some manner, to the place they were before the offence took place.  As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada:

It [restitution] can be an effective means of rehabilitating the accused because this order quickly makes him directly responsible for making restitution to the victim. […] The order also benefits the victim by providing a speedy and inexpensive manner of recovering the debt. […] Society as a whole benefits from the order since its imposition may reduce the term of imprisonment and provides for the reintegration of the convicted person as a useful and responsible member of the community at the earliest possible date.  The practical efficacy and immediacy of the order will help to preserve the confidence of the community in the legal system. Footnote 73

Through programming, education and community initiatives, the offender may take responsibility for his/her actions.  Such an approach is closely linked with the sentencing objective of rehabilitation as well.

5.8 Other Sentencing Considerations - Offences against Children

Section 718.01 of the Criminal Code makes clear that for any offence involving abuse of a child, a court must, in imposing a sentence, give primary consideration to the sentencing objectives of deterrence and denunciation.  Through enacting such a provision, Parliament has recognized the inherent seriousness of offences of this nature and has directed the courts, through this provision, to recognize this fact through the imposition of sentences that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the offender.

5.9 Aggravating and Other Factors

Section 718.2 sets out a number of additional sentencing principles including the principle that a sentence should be increased or reduced to reflect aggravating and mitigating factors.  Of the aggravating factors listed, those which are most likely to be present in human trafficking cases include:

Other Aggravating Factors Footnote 74

In addition to those aggravating factors which a court must take into consideration, other factors which may be relevant in a human trafficking case include:

5.9.1 Those who prey upon vulnerable victims

The courts are quick to recognize as an aggravating factor those who prey on vulnerable groups including:  those with precarious immigration status, women, children, those with different language or culture; those who are marginalized or isolated; and those who are financially destitute.

5.9.2 The offence involved planning and deliberation or a level of organization

The courts have been quick to recognize planning and deliberation as an aggravating factor for sentencing.  See for example:

5.9.3 Previous convictions or involvement with the judicial system

Evidence that an offender has a previous criminal record and/or committed the crime while on parole can also be treated as an aggravating factor for sentencing.

5.9.4 Continuation over a period

Human trafficking cases are not like other crimes in that they often occur over a protracted period of time, involving the ongoing exploitation of the victim.  Continuation of a crime over a period of time is an aggravating factor for sentencing.

5.9.5 Offence was motivated by financial or material gain

Trafficking in persons cases centre on the exploitation of victims for the financial or material gain of the offenders.  In all cases, this factor will be relevant as aggravating the offence and justifying a higher penalty.

5.9.6 Violence and/or the use of weapons

Violence, threats of violence and other conduct engaged in by an offender to coerce the victim to provide their labour or services will be present in all trafficking cases and should aggravate the sentence:

5.9.7 Whether the offender was in an intimate relationship with the victim

In cases of sex trafficking, so-called “lover-boy scenarios,” where an offender seduces his victim and once an intimate relationship has formed begins to use the emotional bond as a way to manipulate and control his victim:

5.9.8 Use of drugs or alcohol to maintain control over the victim or as inducements

The use of drugs or alcohol to help maintain control over the victim can be viewed as an aggravating factor.

5.9.9 Exposure to serious illness or injury

Victims of human trafficking can face a number of health risks and diseases including exposure to sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS.  Malnutrition, unsanitary and/or crowded living conditions and a lack of adequate medical care can all foster a lifetime of adverse health conditions.

5.10 Mitigating Factors

5.10.1 First-time Offender

The fact that an offender has no previous criminal record will often result in the courts focusing on the sentencing objective of rehabilitation.

5.10.2 Remorse or conduct following arrest/early guilty plea/cooperation with the police and prosecutor

Conduct of the offender after the commission of the offence can mitigate a sentence where the court is satisfied that an offender has taken steps to move away from crime. An early guilty plea as an expression of remorse for commission of the crime is viewed as a mitigating factor for sentencing.  It means that the victim does not have to testify in a trial.  The extent that an early guilty plea is viewed as a mitigating factor will, of course, vary with the facts of each case.

5.10.3 Offender was previously a victim of human trafficking

In some cases of human trafficking, offenders may themselves have been victims of human trafficking.  For example, a victim of trafficking may be told that if they become involved in the recruitment of persons, with the knowledge that these persons will be exploited, that they can, themselves, be “free” from the exploitation that they have suffered.  While the reasons why a victim subsequently becomes a trafficker can vary, these circumstances and past history of victimization may be relevant as mitigating factors for sentencing.

5.10.4 Age

The fact that an offender is a young person is generally treated as a mitigating factor.  It should be noted, however, that the courts have recognized that in case involving serious violence, the fact that an offender is young may not be relevant in sentencing. See, for example, R. v. Porsch Footnote 94.

5.11 Specific Sentencing Considerations in respect of human trafficking cases under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

In addition to the principles of sentencing of general application discussed above, a court sentencing an offender for the commission of an offence under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) should take into account the objectives of the legislation which seek to balance the promotion of immigration with the need to maintain the security of Canadian society.

3. (1) The objectives of this Act with respect to immigration are

  • (a) to permit Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration;
  • (b) to enrich and strengthen the social and cultural fabric of Canadian society, while respecting the federal, bilingual and multicultural character of Canada;
  • (b.1) to support and assist the development of minority official languages communities in Canada;
  • (c) to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy, in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions of Canada;
  • (d) to see that families are reunited in Canada;
  • (e) to promote the successful integration of permanent residents into Canada, while recognizing that integration involves mutual obligations for new immigrants and Canadian society;
  • (f) to support, by means of consistent standards and prompt processing, the attainment of immigration goals established by the Government of Canada in consultation with the provinces;
  • (g) to facilitate the entry of visitors, students and temporary workers for purposes such as trade, commerce, tourism, international understanding and cultural, educational and scientific activities;
  • (h) to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to maintain the security of Canadian society;
  • (i) to promote international justice and security by fostering respect for human rights and by denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are criminals or security risks; and
  • (j) to work in cooperation with the provinces to secure better recognition of the foreign credentials of permanent residents and their more rapid integration into society.

Aggravating Factors under the IRPA

The IRPA also has its own aggravating factors that must be taken into consideration by a court when sentencing an offender for certain offences, including human trafficking.
Section 121:  The court, in determining the penalty to be imposed under section 120, shall take into account whether:

5.12 Preparing for a sentencing hearing

5.12.1 Prepare throughout investigative stage

5.12.2 Submissions and Evidence at the Sentence Hearing

The rules regarding submissions and evidence permitted at a sentencing hearing are set out in sections 723-726 of the Criminal Code:

5.13 The Role of the Victim at the Sentence Hearing

5.13.1 Victim impact statements

One of the important aspects of prosecuting a human trafficking case is properly conveying to the court the extent of the harm that is caused to victims of human trafficking.  Victims are often repeatedly traumatized, abused (physically and mentally), exploited and assaulted while under the control and direction of the traffickers.  This aspect of the offence is one that should be the subject of submissions to the court in order to address the relevance of the sentencing objectives of both general and specific deterrence.

One of the ways in which this information may be presented to the court is through a victim impact statement, which allows a victim to describe the harm experienced or loss suffered as a result of the commission of the offence.  Each province and territory has created a victim impact statement form, and all provincial/territorial victim-services organizations offer assistance to victims in preparing victim impact statements.  The assistance provided by victim services ensures that victims are made aware of appropriate content for victim impact statements and that they receive assistance and support during the process.  This support is particularly important for trafficking victims as preparing a victim impact statement may be an emotionally difficult experience due to the nature and severity of the harm they have suffered.

5.13.2 Harm to the victim

While a victim impact statement can provide an opportunity for the court to hear firsthand how the crime impacted the victim, not all victims of trafficking will wish to prepare a victim impact statement or may simply be reluctant to deliver it in court.  In such cases, subsection 722(2.1) of the Criminal Code provides discretion to the court to have a victim impact statement presented in any manner the court considers appropriate.

This could include, for example, having a third party read the statement in court or to simply have it filed with the court.

The welfare of the victim should be a primary consideration in any human trafficking case including during sentencing proceedings.  For this reason, it is essential that the victim be provided with support through provincial/territorial victim-services and victim-serving organizations and agencies. Footnote 95 When approaching a sentencing hearing, the health, welfare, and privacy interests of the victim should be safeguarded to the greatest extent possible.  Trafficking victims should be consulted regarding their desire to prepare a victim impact statement.  They should be informed that the judge is required to consider the information in their victim impact statement when determining the appropriate sentence for the offender, that they may read their victim impact statement aloud at the sentencing hearing if they wish, and that that they may be cross-examined on their victim impact statement.

Some victims may be so traumatized by the human trafficking events that they are unwilling or unable to assist the prosecution at the sentence hearing stage.  In addition to obtaining the cooperation of the victim, there are other challenges related to presenting this evidence to the court.  Properly quantifying the harm to the victim can be a difficult task.  The harm may not be visible as is the case with psychological harm.

Victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in varying degrees and often will require counselling, support and psychological attention. Footnote 96  Reports from these experts, in some circumstances, may be used in the sentencing hearing to demonstrate the extent of the psychological harm to the victim.

The victim may also have been physically harmed.  The medical reports demonstrating this physical harm should also be provided to the courts and consideration should be given to the immediate harm caused by the physical assault, the enduring or continuing rehabilitation required to restore the victim to health, medical costs, and the additional psychological trauma that the physical harm has caused.

Guidance for the use and procedures related to victim impact statements can be found in section 722 of the Criminal Code:

In addition, provincial/territorial victim services should be consulted regarding their victim impact statement programs to ensure that victims are aware of assistance that is available for the preparation of victim impact statements.

Victim impact statement

722. (1) For the purpose of determining the sentence to be imposed on an offender or whether the offender should be discharged pursuant to section 730 in respect of any offence, the court shall consider any statement that may have been prepared in accordance with subsection (2) of a victim of the offence describing the harm done to, or loss suffered by, the victim arising from the commission of the offence.

Procedure for victim impact statement

(2) A statement referred to in subsection (1) must be

  • (a) prepared in writing in the form and in accordance with the procedures established by a program designated for that purpose by the lieutenant governor in council of the province in which the court is exercising its jurisdiction; and
  • (b) filed with the court.
Presentation of statement

(2.1) The court shall, on the request of a victim, permit the victim to read a statement prepared and filed in accordance with subsection (2), or to present the statement in any other manner that the court considers appropriate.

Evidence concerning victim admissible

(3) Whether or not a statement has been prepared and filed in accordance with subsection (2), the court may consider any other evidence concerning any victim of the offence for the purpose of determining the sentence to be imposed on the offender or whether the offender should be discharged under section 730.

Definition of “victim”

(4) For the purposes of this section and section 722.2, “victim”, in relation to an offence,

  • (a) means a person to whom harm was done or who suffered physical or emotional loss as a result of the commission of the offence; and
  • (b) where the person described in paragraph (a) is dead, ill or otherwise incapable of making a statement referred to in subsection (1), includes the spouse or common-law partner or any relative of that person, anyone who has in law or fact the custody of that person or is responsible for the care or support of that person or any dependant of that person.

Copy of statement

722.1 The clerk of the court shall provide a copy of a statement referred to in subsection 722(1), as soon as practicable after a finding of guilt, to the offender or counsel for the offender, and to the prosecutor.

722.2 (1) As soon as practicable after a finding of guilt and in any event before imposing sentence, the court shall inquire of the prosecutor or a victim of the offence, or any person representing a victim of the offence, whether the victim or victims have been advised of the opportunity to prepare a statement referred to in subsection 722(1).

722.3 Adjournment

722.4 (2) On application of the prosecutor or a victim or on its own motion, the court may adjourn the proceedings to permit the victim to prepare a statement referred to in subsection 722(1) or to present evidence in accordance with subsection 722(3), if the court is satisfied that the adjournment would not interfere with the proper administration of justice.

5.13.3 Victim Surcharge

A victim surcharge is an additional penalty automatically imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing.  The charge is 30 percent of any fine imposed, or, if there is no fine, $100 upon conviction for a summary offence and $200 upon conviction for an indictable offence. The court has the discretion to increase the amount of the surcharge if it is appropriate in the circumstances and if the offender has the ability to pay.  In the circumstances where human traffickers may have benefited substantially through the commission of the offence, this increase may be deemed appropriate.  The victim surcharge is used by the province or territory where the crime occurred to help fund programs, services and assistance for victims. Offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge may discharge the amount owing through participation in provincial fine option programs where they are offered.

737. (1) An offender who is convicted or discharged under section 730 of an offence under this Act or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act shall pay a victim surcharge, in addition to any other punishment imposed on the offender. (2) Subject to subsection (3), the amount of the victim surcharge in respect of an offence is

  • (a) 30 per cent of any fine that is imposed on the offender for the offence; or
  • (b) if no fine is imposed on the offender for the offence,
    • (i) $100 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction, and
    • (ii) $200 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment.

(3) The court may order an offender to pay a victim surcharge in an amount exceeding that set out in subsection (2) if the court considers it appropriate in the circumstances and is satisfied that the offender is able to pay the higher amount.

(4) The victim surcharge imposed in respect of an offence is payable at the time at which the fine imposed for the offence is payable and, when no fine is imposed, within the time established by the lieutenant governor in council of the province in which the surcharge is imposed for payment of any such surcharge.

(5) and (6) [Repealed, 2013, c. 11, s. 3]

(7) A victim surcharge imposed under subsection (1) shall be applied for the purposes of providing such assistance to victims of offences as the lieutenant governor in council of the province in which the surcharge is imposed may direct from time to time.

(8) The court shall cause to be given to the offender a written notice setting out

  • (a) the amount of the victim surcharge;
  • (b) the manner in which the victim surcharge is to be paid;
  • (c) the time by which the victim surcharge must be paid; and
  • (d) the procedure for applying for a change in any terms referred to in paragraphs (b) and (c) in accordance with section 734.3.

(9) Subsections 734(3) to (7) and sections 734.3, 734.5, 734.7 and 734.8 and 736 apply, with any modifications that the circumstances require, in respect of a victim surcharge imposed under subsection (1) and, in particular,

  • (a) a reference in any of those provisions to “fine”, other than in subsection 734.8(5), must be read as if it were a reference to “victim surcharge”; and
  • (b) the notice provided under subsection (8) is deemed to be an order made under section 734.1.

(10) For greater certainty, the program referred to in section 736 for the discharge of a fine may not be used in respect of a victim surcharge.

5.14 Restitution Orders

Restitution is a payment which an offender is required to make to a victim to cover an easily quantifiable loss that a victim has sustained as a result of the commission of an offence.  Restitution is a payment from the offender to the victim to reimburse expenses and must be distinguished from compensation which is a payment from the state to the victim to recognize the harm which they have suffered as a result of their victimization.

Restitution orders may be “stand alone” orders or ordered as a condition of probation or conditional sentence. Paragraph 738(1)(a) of the Criminal Code authorizes the imposition of a “stand alone” restitution order in three circumstances, however, only the first two are likely to apply in the sentencing of trafficking offences:

Restitution orders take priority over forfeiture orders if the offender has demonstrated an inability to pay (section 740 of the Criminal Code).

Restitution may also be ordered as a condition of a probation order (subsection 732.1(3.1)) or as a condition of a conditional sentence (paragraph 742.3(2)(f)).

Restitution is a discretionary sentence which can only be ordered when a loss or damage is easily quantifiable and is not in great dispute.  Criminal courts are not an appropriate forum for awarding damages for pain and suffering or for determining complicated issues regarding the amount of the award.  Additionally, while the offender’s ability to pay is not determinative, it must be taken into consideration by the sentencing court when determining if restitution is an appropriate sentence.

Although trafficking offenders have often profited greatly from the exploitation of those whom they have trafficked, restitution will often not be an appropriate sentence in trafficking cases due to the nature of the losses and harm sustained by trafficking victims.  Victims who have suffered physical harm, loss of liberty and who have been forced to work without compensation have most certainly endured financial losses, however, these are not the types of financial losses contemplated under the restitution provisions in the Criminal Code.

There will, however, be cases where an application for restitution should be considered, such as when a person who has been trafficked is unable to perform paid work due to the lasting physical or psychological effects of the exploitation they endured.  For example, if a person had to take a medical leave from a job due to injuries they had sustained as a result of being made to perform physical labour in dangerous working conditions or for excessive periods of time without adequate rest breaks, an application could be made for restitution to cover lost income.

5.14.1 Enforcement of Restitution Orders

If the offender fails to pay restitution as ordered, section 741 allows a victim to whom restitution is owed to file the restitution order in civil court in order to have it enforced as a civil judgment.  Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have a restitution enforcement program which assists victims in collecting unpaid restitution orders.  Some other provincial/territorial victims’ service programs in Canada provide various kinds of assistance to victims in enforcing restitution orders whether through a simplified process for filing the restitution order with the civil court and waiver of fees or assistance in preparing the necessary documents.

Note that, all or any part of an amount that is ordered to be paid may be taken out of moneys found in the possession of the offender at the time of the arrest.

Restitution to victims of offences

738. (1) Where an offender is convicted or discharged under section 730 of an offence, the court imposing sentence on or discharging the offender may, on application of the Attorney General or on its own motion, in addition to any other measure imposed on the offender, order that the offender make restitution to another person as follows

  • (a) in the case of damage to, or the loss or destruction of, the property of any person as a result of the commission of the offence or the arrest or attempted arrest of the offender, by paying to the person an amount not exceeding the replacement value of the property as of the date the order is imposed, less the value of any part of the property that is returned to that person as of the date it is returned, where the amount is readily ascertainable;
  • (b) in the case of bodily or psychological harm to any person as a result of the commission of the offence or the arrest or attempted arrest of the offender, by paying to the person an amount not exceeding all pecuniary damages incurred as a result of the harm, including loss of income or support, if the amount is readily ascertainable;
  • (c) in the case of bodily harm or threat of bodily harm to the offender’s spouse or common-law partner or child, or any other person, as a result of the commission of the offence or the arrest or attempted arrest of the offender, where the spouse or common-law partner, child or other person was a member of the offender’s household at the relevant time, by paying to the person in question, independently of any amount ordered to be paid under paragraphs (a) and (b), an amount not exceeding actual and reasonable expenses incurred by that person, as a result of moving out of the offender’s household, for temporary housing, food, child care and transportation, where the amount is readily ascertainable; and
  • (d) in the case of an offence under section 402.2 or 403, by paying to a person who, as a result of the offence, incurs expenses to re-establish their identity, including expenses to replace their identity documents and to correct their credit history and credit rating, an amount that is not more than the amount of those expenses, to the extent that they are reasonable, if the amount is readily ascertainable.

(2) The lieutenant governor in council of a province may make regulations precluding the inclusion of provisions on enforcement of restitution orders as an optional condition of a probation order or of a conditional sentence order.

740. Where the court finds it applicable and appropriate in the circumstances of a case to make, in relation to an offender, an order of restitution under section 738 or 739, and

  • (a) an order of forfeiture under this or any other Act of Parliament may be made in respect of property that is the same as property in respect of which the order of restitution may be made, or
  • (b) the court is considering ordering the offender to pay a fine and it appears to the court that the offender would not have the means or ability to comply with both the order of restitution and the order to pay the fine, the court shall first make the order of restitution and shall then consider whether and to what extent an order of forfeiture or an order to pay a fine is appropriate in the circumstances.

741. (1) Where an amount that is ordered to be paid under section 732.1, 738, 739 or 742.3, is not paid without delay, the person to whom the amount was ordered to be paid may, by filing the order, enter as a judgment the amount ordered to be paid in any civil court in Canada that has jurisdiction to enter a judgment for that amount, and that judgment is enforceable against the offender in the same manner as if it were a judgment rendered against the offender in that court in civil proceedings.

(2) All or any part of an amount that is ordered to be paid under section 738 or 739 may be taken out of moneys found in the possession of the offender at the time of the arrest of the offender if the court making the order, on being satisfied that ownership of or right to possession of those moneys is not disputed by claimants other than the offender, so directs.

741.1 Where a court makes an order of restitution under section 738 or 739, it shall cause notice of the content of the order, or a copy of the order, to be given to the person to whom the restitution is ordered to be paid.

741.2 A civil remedy for an act or omission is not affected by reason only that an order for restitution under section 738 or 739 has been made in respect of that act or omission.