Raising Awareness about Trafficking in Persons

Learn about trafficking

To start raising awareness about trafficking in persons in your own community and sector, here is some background information:


What is trafficking in persons?


  • Involves the exploitation of people, often through forced labour.
  • Often involves the transportation of victims across borders or within a country. People who are far from their home communities are much easier to exploit, because of their isolation in an unfamiliar community. This is true of people brought into Canada, but also of people transported within Canada, such as aboriginal people separated from their nation and support networks.
  • Exploits the vulnerable. This is why women and children are often the affected. Traffickers often rely on the very limited options available to people, especially women, in desperately poor communities. Trafficked persons are often unaware of the rights they do have and traffickers will try to keep them ignorant.
  • Affects people who are first of all human beings, not victims. Those who are trafficked are individuals with their own stories and they have made choices about their lives within the constraints of often difficult circumstances. They deserve respect and greater control over their own lives.
Forms of trafficking

Trafficking can take many forms. It often involves the exploitation of people through forced labour.

Trafficking can include:

  • Work in sex industry/prostitution
  • Domestic work
  • Work in service (e.g. restaurants), manufacturing, agricultural or construction sectors.

Trafficking can also be present in cases of forced marriages where the act, means and purpose of exploitation are evident.


Trafficking in Persons vs. Migrant Smuggling

Trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling are different:

  • A person who is trafficked is kept under the control of the traffickers and exploited in some way, sometimes after having been transported across a border.
  • A person who is smuggled receives help getting into a country, usually in exchange for money and that is the end of the relationship with the smuggler.
  • While trafficking and smuggling are different things, it is possible for a migrant to become trafficked during the smuggling process if any of the means within the trafficking definition come into play and if they are exploited.
Did you know?  All countries are places of origin, transit or destination for trafficking in persons.
Key elements of trafficking

Trafficking in persons can be identified by the combination of 3 factors:

+ ACT: Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.

+ MEANS: Threat/coercion, abduction, fraud/deception, abuse of power/of a position of vulnerability.

+ PURPOSE: Exploitation.


International Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Trafficking Protocol

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children (2000), also known as the Trafficking Protocol, provided the first internationally agreed upon definition of trafficking in persons. It specifically offers States a legal framework for their anti-trafficking initiatives, recognizing the need for a combined approach that integrates:

  • Effective prevention of trafficking;
  • Prosecution of traffickers;
  • Protection of human rights and assistance to trafficked persons.

This Protocol is one of three protocols supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. As such, it addresses trafficking within the context of organized crime.

While the Trafficking Protocol provides important guidelines for countries and has been essential in laying the groundwork for anti-trafficking strategies internationally, its limitations lie in that:

  • It does not address trafficking within a human rights framework;
  • Provisions on human rights protections of trafficked persons are optional;
  • It does not acknowledge the responsibility of states for creating the conditions within which trafficking flourishes;
  • It frames anti-trafficking measures primarily as migration control measures.
Why is trafficking a human rights issue?

At different stages of the trafficking experience, the human rights of trafficked persons are severely violated.

Human rights violations are a cause and consequence of trafficking.

During exploitation

  • Right to personal autonomy;
  • Right not to be held in slavery or servitude;
  • Right to liberty and security of the person;
  • Right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment;
  • Right to safe and healthy working conditions;
  • Right to freedom of movement.

After escaping situation

Many governments give priority to prosecution and to the detention and deportation of trafficked persons for reasons related to their status.

In many cases, trafficked persons are used primarily as a tool to prosecute the crime.


Canadian Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Canada is a signatory and State Party to the Trafficking Protocol and has been guided by the Protocol’s principles in responding to trafficking.

Canada’s anti-trafficking efforts have focused primarily on law enforcement responses. Less priority has been given to protecting the rights of persons who are victims of the crime of trafficking.

Canada has developed a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which outlines the government’s priorities and approach in addressing trafficking.

Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking

The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (NAP) was launched by the federal government in June 2012. The NAP is the first attempt to establish a national response to trafficking in persons. It promotes anti-trafficking activities that are divided into 4 broad areas (also known as the 4 ‘Ps’) which are in line with the Trafficking Protocol:

  • Prevention:
    • Raising awareness and increasing training on trafficking
    • Carrying out research to identify regions at risk of trafficking
  • Prosecution:
    • Improving efforts to criminalize trafficking and punish traffickers
    • Training and education efforts for prosecutors and law enforcement
  • Protection:
    • Issuing Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs) to trafficked non-citizens without other legal status when necessary
    • Extending health care coverage to trafficked non-citizens with a TRP
    • Restricting temporary worker visas for employment in businesses linked to the sex industry (see CCR comments)
    • Increasing awareness among newcomers at borders through the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
  • Partnerships:
    • Building and improving relations between law enforcement, the judiciary, and organizations working on trafficking nationally
    • Creating and strengthening relationships abroad

Even though the NAP includes a section on protection, its anti-trafficking efforts largely favour a law enforcement approach. This has proved problematic as the rights and needs of trafficked persons have been given a lower priority and, as a result, trafficked persons continue to fall between the cracks of the system.

Did you know?

Protecting trafficked persons’ rights also serves anti-trafficking objectives:

When trafficked persons are given viable alternatives they have an incentive to report;

When trafficked persons are protected, traffickers, who depend on victims that can be exploited, are undermined.


Suggested Background Documents and Websites
  • Background documents
  • NGO websites
  • Government Websites

Suggested background documents and websites on trafficking in Canada are available here.