Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking is often described as a modern day form of slavery.  It involves the recruitment and/or transportation, and/or harboring and/or control of the movement of persons for the purpose of exploitation, typically for sexual exploitation or forced labour.  Human Trafficking also includes the forced removal of organs.

In all human trafficking cases, victims are required to provide their services (which can include sexual services) or labor under circumstances which would be reasonably expected to cause them to believe that their safety, or the safety of someone known to them, could be threatened, if they refuse to provide that service or labour.  Victims suffer physical, sexual, and emotional abuse including intimidation, threats of violence or actual harm, which may be compounded by their living and working conditions.

Human trafficking is a serious crime that affects the most vulnerable member of society.  Women and children are often the victims of human trafficking, and particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, however men can also be trafficked victims.

Types of Human Trafficking

In Canada, there have been cases of both domestic and international human trafficking.

  • International Human Trafficking refers to any victim who, in the process of being trafficked, crosses an international border (regardless of the victim’s status in Canada).
  • Domestic Human Trafficking refers to any victim of human trafficking who is trafficked within Canada (regardless of the victim’s status in Canada).

Victims of human trafficking can be exploited in various ways, and as a result of the way they are controlled and treated, they feel that they cannot escape their situation:

  • Sexual Exploitation: This means a person is exploited for a sexual purpose; the person is forced to provide sexual services through prostitution, work in massage parlours, escort agencies, or in the adult entertainment industry, (strip clubs), etc. The victims have little say in what they are required to do and where or when they work. Most or all of the money is controlled by their pimp/boyfriend/trafficker.
  • Forced Labour: The person is forced to provide labour or service under exploitive circumstances such as working long hours for little or no pay; being promised that they would be doing a certain type of work but being forced/coerced to do something else: and working in dangerous environments with little or no safety equipment. Their living arrangements might also be controlled by their trafficker, (where they live, what they eat and who they can talk to).
  • Domestic Servitude:  This could include being forced to work as a nanny or live-in caregiver who is pressured to work long hours, or providing labour and services outside their reasonable duties (or outside of a regular 8-hour day). For example: forcing the nanny to be on-call for the children at all hours, being forced to wash the employer’s vehicles or give them massages, etc.

Human Trafficking vs Human Smuggling

Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling. Smuggling is the organized, illegal movement of persons across international borders into a country, with their consent, in exchange for a sum of money, being a voluntary activity where one person agrees to pay another person a sum of money in exchange for help entering into another country illegally. Typically, the relationship between the smuggler and the person being smuggled is a voluntary business transaction which usually ends when the client reaches the intended destination.  The financial component of human smuggling transaction may be a one-time fee paid to the smuggler before arrival or instalment payments after arrival.  However, in some cases, the person who has agreed to be smuggled may become a victim of human trafficking, forced into an exploitive situation at the hands of the smuggler. The offence of human trafficking does not require the crossing of an international border, or any movement at all.

This will provide a clear understanding of human trafficking, including Canada’s obligation to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children, to criminalize trafficking, ensure victim’s safety, and enhance cooperation and training for all law enforcement.

In cases where smuggling turns into trafficking, the relationship between traffickers and victim does not end upon arrival at destination, as the victim may be forced to work or provide sexual services for a profit to the trafficker.  Unlike human smuggling, human trafficking occurs both across international borders and within national boundaries.

Human trafficking knows no borders and affects all countries, including Canada.  Victims may be brought into Canada or they may be trafficked within and between cities.  Anyone can be a victim of this crime but vulnerable persons are particularly at risk.  These are individuals who come from socially or economically disadvantaged communities, who have suffered inequality or discrimination, or who are otherwise marginalized.  In Canada this could include: girls and women, aboriginal women and girls, children exiting the child protection system, street children, domestic workers, and migrant workers.

The Face of Human Trafficking

She’s the woman next door who turns away and doesn’t speak whenever you see her. He is the child with bruises on his arm. It could be your neighbour, the nanny working across the street, or the child you pass everyday on your way to work. The victims of human trafficking are diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, and country of origin. Every day people become indentured labourers or sex trade workers held hostage by their captors. These captors keep the passports, finances, or even traffickers persons family captive.  Human trafficking is a growing business in North America, stretching across provincial, territorial, and international borders. The faces of both the trafficked person and the trafficker have blended to the backgrounds of daily life that one often does not realize who they are, even if you see them every day.

Red Flags/Indicators

People who have been trafficked may:

  • Believe that they must work against their will
  • Be unable to leave their work environment
  • Show signs that their movements are being controlled
  • Feel that they cannot leave
  • Show fear or anxiety
  • Be subjected to violence or threats of violence against themselves or against their family members and loved ones
  • Suffer injuries that appear to be the result of an assault
  • Suffer injuries or impairments typical of certain jobs or control measures
  • Suffer injuries that appear to be the result of the application of control measures
  • Be distrustful of the authorities
  • Be threatened with being handed over to the authorities
  • Be afraid of revealing their immigration status
  • Not be in possession of their passports or other travel or identity documents, as those documents are being held by someone else
  • Have false identity or travel documents
  • Be found in or connected to a type of location likely to be used for exploiting people
  • Be unfamiliar with the local language
  • Not know their home or work address
  • Allow others to speak for them when addressed directly
  • Act as if they were instructed by someone else
  • Be forced to work under certain conditions
  • Be disciplined through punishment
  • Be unable to negotiate working conditions
  • Receive little or no payment
  • Have no access to their earnings
  • Work excessively long hours over long periods
  • Not have any days off
  • Live in poor or substandard accommodations
  • Have no access to medical care
  • Have limited or no social interaction
  • Have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment
  • Be unable to communicate freely with others
  • Be under the perception that they are bonded by debt
  • Be in a situation of dependence
  • Come from a place known to be a source of human trafficking
  • Have had the fees for their transport to the country of destination paid for by facilitators, whom they must payback by working or providing services in the destination
  • Have acted on the basis of false promises


Children who have been trafficked may:

  • Have no access to their parents or guardians
  • Look intimidated and behave in a way that does not correspond with behaviour typical of children their age
  • Have no friends of their own age outside of work
  • Have no access to education
  • Have no time for playing
  • Live apart from other children and in substandard accommodations
  • Eat apart from other members of the “family”
  • Be given only leftovers to eat
  • Be engaged in work that is not suitable for children
  • Travel unaccompanied by adults
  • Travel in groups with persons who are not relatives

The following might also indicate that children have been trafficked:

  • The presence of child-sized clothing typically worn for doing manual or sex work
  • The presence of toys, beds and children’s clothing in inappropriate places such as brothels and factories
  • The claim made by an adult that he or she has “found” an unaccompanied child
  • The finding of unaccompanied children carrying telephone numbers for calling taxis
  • The discovery of cases involving illegal adoption


People who have been trafficked for the purpose of domestic servitude may:

  • Live with a family
  • Not eat with the rest of the family
  • Have no private space
  • Sleep in a shared or inappropriate space
  • Be reported missing by their employer even though they are still living in their employer’s house
  • Never or rarely leave the house for social reasons
  • Never leave the house without their employer
  • Be given only leftovers to eat
  • Be subjected to insults, abuse, threats or violence


People who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation may:

  • Be of any age, although the age may vary according to the location and the market
  • Move from one brothel to the next or work in various locations
  • Be escorted whenever they go to and return from work and other outside activities
  • Have tattoos or other marks indicating “ownership” by their exploiters
  • Work long hours or have few if any days off
  • Sleep where they work
  • Live or travel in a group, sometimes with other women who do not speak the same language
  • Have very few items of clothing
  • Have clothes that are mostly the kind typically worn for doing sex work
  • Only know how to say sex-related words in the local language or in the language of the client group
  • Have no cash of their own
  • Be unable to show an identity document

The following might also indicate that children have been trafficked:

  • There is evidence that suspected victims have had unprotected and/or violent sex.
  • There is evidence that suspected victims cannot refuse unprotected and/or violent sex.
  • There is evidence that a person has been bought and sold.
  • There is evidence that groups of women are under the control of others.
  • Advertisements are placed for brothels or similar places offering the services of women of a particular ethnicity or nationality.
  • It is reported that sex workers provide services to a clientele of a particular ethnicity or nationality.
  • It is reported by clients that sex workers do not smile.


People who have been trafficked for the purpose of labour exploitation are typically made to work in sectors such as the following:

agriculture, construction, entertainment, service industry and manufacturing (in sweatshops).

People who have been trafficked for labour exploitation may:

  • Live in groups in the same place where they work and leave those premises infrequently, if at all
  • Live in degraded, unsuitable places, such as in agricultural or industrial buildings
  • Not be dressed adequately for the work they do: for example, they may lack protective equipment or warm clothing
  • Be given only leftovers to eat
  • Have no access to their earnings
  • Have no labour contract
  • Work excessively long hours
  • Depend on their employer for a number of services, including work, transportation and accommodation
  • Have no choice of accommodation
  • Never leave the work premises without their employer
  • Be unable to move freely
  • Be subject to security measures designed to keep them on the work premises
  • Be disciplined through fines
  • Be subjected to insults, abuse, threats or violence
  • Lack basic training and professional licences

The following might also indicate that people have been trafficked for labour exploitation:

  • Notices have been posted in languages other than the local language.
  • There are no health and safety notices.
  • The employer or manager is unable to show the documents required for employing workers from other countries.
  • The employer or manager is unable to show records of wages paid to workers.
  • The health and safety equipment is of poor quality or is missing.
  • Equipment is designed or has been modified so that it can be operated by children.
  • There is evidence that labour laws are being breached.
  • There is evidence that workers must pay for tools, food or accommodation or that those costs are being deducted from their wages.


People who have been trafficked for the purpose of begging or committing petty crimes may:

  • Be children, elderly persons or disabled migrants who tend to beg in public places and on public transport
  • Be children carrying and/or selling illicit drugs
  • Have physical impairments that appear to be the result of mutilation
  • Be children of the same nationality or ethnicity who move in large groups with only a few adults
  • Be unaccompanied minors who have been “found” by an adult of the same nationality or ethnicity
  • Move in groups while travelling on public transport: for example, they may walk up and down the length of trains
  • Participate in the activities of organized criminal gangs
  • Be part of large groups of children who have the same adult guardian
  • Be punished if they do not collect or steal enough
  • Live with members of their gang
  • Travel with members of their gang to the country of destination
  • Live, as gang members, with adults who are not their parents
  • Move daily in large groups and over considerable distances

The following might also indicate that people have been trafficked for begging or for committing petty crimes:

  • New forms of gang-related crime appear.
  • There is evidence that the group of suspected victims has moved, over a period of time, through a number of countries.
  • There is evidence that suspected victims have been involved in begging or in committing petty crimes in another country.

Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
  • Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Poor Physical Health
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Lack of Control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Other
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story