Who is a trafficked person?
Trafficked persons are people who are in a situation of exploitation, which may be for forced labour or sexual exploitation.  Traffickers use force, fraud or the vulnerability of the trafficked persons to bring them and hold them in the situation of exploitation.  Trafficked persons may have been brought across an international border, although this is not always the case.  Trafficked persons may be men, but most are women or children.

Some situations of trafficking in Canada:

  • Filipina woman enters Canada as the servant of an international student and his family. While in Canada, she is not allowed out of the house and is not paid for her labour.  She is able to make contact with a community organization and leaves the family.  She then faces deportation from Canada.  The intervention of a lawyer is required to persuade an immigration officer to give her a short stay of removal so that she can start legal proceedings to recover wages for the work she did for the family.  When the lawyer asks the immigration officer whether she is going to take action against the employer (i.e. the person who trafficked the woman), the officer responds, “That’s not my job.”
  • An Ethiopian woman enters Canada as a servant for a family visiting Canada.  The family holds her passport and keeps her under strict control.  She manages to escape and relates how she entered into a contract with an agent in her country to be a servant to the family.  She was severely mistreated by the family before coming to Canada.  Now that she has left her employer, the agent is threatening to go after her family for breach of contract.
  • Four Korean women and one man are arrested in an alleged bawdy house.  The man is allowed to return to Korea.  The women are put into detention and face deportation.  They say that they came to Canada under their own volition, but it is impossible to know if the whole story is being told as long as they are not in a secure situation.  Under the current immigration law, even if they were being exploited, there is no reason for them to speak openly about it, because they would still be subject to detention and deportation.
  • A Chinese youth has entered Canada after traveling in a group of 15 people on a long journey through many countries in Asia, Africa and South America.  The circumstances of the case raise suspicion of smuggling or trafficking.  On this basis the youth is held in detention.  In its decision to maintain him in detention the Immigration and Refugee Board states: “One has to bear in mind that it certainly cost your family a lot to pay the organization for this kind of trip and in all likelihood your family is indebted for many future years and I think that on your part, if I were to order release, you would feel obligated to meet your part of the deal and of the contract, so your family does not lose all that money.  I am also of the opinion that the smuggling organization will remain around you, so to exercise control over you and influence you in your decisions.”  Detention is the only solution being offered by the government to this apparent threat of control.

Trafficking and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
The only references to trafficking in Canada’s immigration legislation are in an enforcement context.  There are provisions to prosecute traffickers.  As for victims of traffickers, their status simply makes them more liable to detention, because it is one of the factors to consider in decisions to detain (Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 245 (f)).  In the case of children, the law also promotes detention of victims of trafficking by including in the special considerations for minors: “the risk of continued control by the human smugglers or traffickers who brought the children to Canada” (Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 249 (c)).  The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act offers no measures of protection specifically for trafficked persons.  They may be able to make a refugee claim, and some have received protection in that way.  However, a refugee claim will not necessarily help because the refugee definition focuses on future risk in the country of origin, rather than harm experienced in Canada.  The risks faced by trafficked persons if deported to their home country are often not well-documented.  The CCR has raised with Citizenship and Immigration Canada the need for urgent protection measures for trafficked persons but has received no commitment to act.

Palermo Protocol
Canada is a signatory to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Protocol).  As suggested by its name, this instrument focuses on trafficking as a crime, rather than as a human rights issues.  As a result, the victims of trafficking are neglected.  Nevertheless, the Protocol contains Article 6: Assistance to and protection of victims of trafficking on persons (which calls for measures to provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of trafficking) and Article 7: Status of Victims of trafficking in persons in receiving States (which calls for States to consider adopting measures “that permit victims of trafficking in persons to remain in its territory, temporarily or permanently, in appropriate cases.”)

Canada has human rights obligations towards persons who are trafficked and particular obligations towards children, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Safe third country agreement
The governments of Canada and the USA signed a safe third country agreement in December 2002 and its implementation is currently under preparation.  The agreement would, with some exceptions, deny refugees the right to make a refugee claim in Canada if they are at the US-Canada border.  Closing this door to refugees is likely to force some into the hands of smugglers and traffickers who will offer, for a price, irregular and potentially dangerous ways to enter Canada to make a claim.  The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration raised its concerns about this risk in its report on the safe third country agreement in December 2002.

CCR trafficking project
The Canadian Council for Refugees launched its project in 2003 with the goal of developing the capacity among Canadian NGOs to respond appropriately to the needs of trafficked persons in Canada, especially women and girls, and to work towards the eradication of forced labour in Canada. The project organized a series of meetings, regionally and nationally, to consult, network and develop recommendations.  A report, Trafficking in Women and Girls, Report of Meetings, was produced and is available at www.trafficking.ca.  Since then, the project has supported follow up meetings in the regions focusing on moving forward with the recommendations, particularly with respect to raising public awareness and advocating for measures to protect trafficked persons.

25 November 2004