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Summary

In Canada, the legal framework related to combatting human trafficking consists primarily of provisions in the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Public Safety Canada leads a Human Trafficking Taskforce, made up of ten federal departments, that is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the commitments made under the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, coordinating the federal anti-human-trafficking response, and reporting to the public annually on progress.

Training programs, courses, and tools have been established for law enforcement at the federal and provincial levels.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre has developed an online training course for law enforcement that is available through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.  British Columbia’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons has developed an online training course for front-line service providers called Human Trafficking: Canada is Not Immune.

I.  Legal Framework on Human Trafficking

In Canada, the criminal legal framework[1] related to combatting human trafficking consists primarily of provisions in the Criminal Code[2] and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).[3]  According to Public Safety Canada, which is responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians, the Criminal Code “contains the tools to hold traffickers accountable and includes four specific indictable offences to address human trafficking,”[4] namely, sections 279.01 (Trafficking in persons),[5] 279.011 (Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years),[6] 279.02 (Material benefit),[7] and 279.03 (Withholding or destroying documents).[8]

The Criminal Code includes other offenses that can also apply to human trafficking cases including kidnapping, forcible confinement, uttering threats, extortion, assault, sexual assault, prostitution-related offenses, and criminal organization offenses.[9]

According to Public Safety Canada:

The Criminal Code also contains measures designed to make testifying less traumatic for victims and other vulnerable witnesses.  Testimonial aids, such as a screen that prevents the witness from seeing the accused, the use of closed-circuit television that permits the witness to testify from outside the courtroom or the presence of support persons may be made available in appropriate circumstances.  Other measures that may be available are publication bans on information that would identify a complainant or witness and, in some cases, orders excluding the public from the courtroom.[10]

Section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) defines the crime of trafficking in persons, providing that “[n]o person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force or coercion.”[11]  A person who commits the offense of trafficking in persons is liable, taking into account certain aggravating factors,[12] to a fine of up to Can$1 million (about US$722,139) and/or up to life imprisonment.[13]

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II.  Roles and Responsibilities of Government

A. Public Safety Canada

Public Safety Canada leads a Human Trafficking Taskforce, made up of representatives from ten federal departments,[14] that “is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the National Action Plan commitments and for coordinating the federal anti-human trafficking response and reporting annually on progress to the public.”[15]

The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was launched by the Government of Canada on June 6, 2012, in order to consolidate “ongoing efforts of the federal government to combat human trafficking and introduces aggressive new initiatives to prevent human trafficking, identify victims, protect the most vulnerable, and prosecute perpetrators.”[16]  The Plan includes agency-specific commitments related to training, outreach, and intelligence activities, with the objectives of preventing human trafficking, identifying victims, protecting the most vulnerable, and prosecuting perpetrators. 

B. Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is the Canadian national police service and an agency of Public Safety Canada.  Apart from enforcing the laws enumerated above, Canada’s law enforcement officials have the following responsibilities:

  • identify children and adults at risk
  • inform potential victims of their rights
  • identify and investigate criminal elements of circumstances and seek to prosecute individuals involved in human trafficking
  • refer potential victims who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to learn of their options regarding immigration status
  • identify support services and refer victims/potential victims to specialist non-government organizations that may assist with finding safe accommodation, and various needs including medical, psychological, legal assistance, education, and work placement
  • conduct interviews, seek intelligence, undertake investigations with immigration officials and any other appropriate parties, and ensure that links are made with other agencies and national/international policing organizations
  • provide protection to victims and staff supporting them
  • work closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, provincial/territorial and municipal agencies, social services, child welfare authorities and any non-government organizations involved in service delivery to provide protection to victims, including children
  • conduct a continuous risk assessment with respect to the safety and welfare of the victims and their families at every stage of the investigation and judicial process and beyond[17]

The RCMP has established a Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC)[18] at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa.  According to the RCMP, “[t]he Centre provides a focal point for law enforcement in their efforts to combat and disrupt individuals and criminal organizations involved in Human Trafficking activities.”[19]

C.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) can help protect victims of trafficking by securing their immigration status with a special temporary resident permit (TRP).[20]

D.  Canada Border Services Agency

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) combats human trafficking as part of its function to manage Canada’s borders and fighting cross-border crime.[21]  The CBSA

  • identifies instances of cross-border human trafficking;
  • helps potential victims by referring them to appropriate government services; and
  • supports the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking offenders.[22]

The CBSA has been working with other federal partners in the implementation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.  According to the Plan, the CBSA “will undertake efforts to raise awareness with vulnerable foreign nationals at ports of entry.”[23]

The CBSA is also part of an RCMP-led integrated enforcement team dedicated to human trafficking.[24]

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III.  Training Programs for Law Enforcement

According to a 2014 study prepared for Public Safety Canada, “[t]raining for police officers on human trafficking varies depending on the region and the police service.”[25]  Interviews in the study showed that available training can range from three hours to several days, “while some police services have no formal training on human trafficking at all.”[26]

The Government of Canada has stated that, under the National Action Plan, “efforts will continue to focus on targeted training for first responders and service providers because they are often the first point of contact and provide victims with essential care and emergency relief.”[27]  When the Plan was introduced, emphasis was placed on increasing “front-line training to identify and respond to human trafficking and enhance prevention in vulnerable communities.”[28]  The Plan also calls for stepping up the training of prosecutors, border guards, and judges.[29]

A.  Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre

One of the priorities of the HTNCC is to “develop tools, protocols and guidelines to facilitate Human Trafficking investigations” and “coordinate national awareness/training and anti-trafficking initiatives.”[30]  According to the National Action Plan,

[t]he Royal Canadian Mounted Police will develop and coordinate specialized training for police officers through the Canadian Police College and will add human trafficking awareness to its cadet training curriculum.  In addition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will develop a victim-centred guidebook for investigators to assist them in working with victims and will finalise the on-line human trafficking course for all Canadian law enforcement.[31]

According to a 2014-15 departmental report, a human trafficking course component has been added to RCMP’s cadet training curriculum at the RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division in Regina, Saskatchewan, and at the Canadian Police College.[32]

The HTNCC has developed an online training course for law enforcement that is available through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN)[33] as well as the RCMP’s online training tool, AGORA.[34]

In partnership with the Canadian Police College, the HTNCC has also developed a Human Trafficking Investigator’s Course[35] for Canadian law enforcement.[36]  According to the US State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, “[t]he federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) included trafficking in the national academy training for all new recruits;[and] trained 55 police officers in an in-depth human trafficking investigator’s course.”[37]

In addition, the HTNCC has produced a “Human Trafficking Tool Kit available to all law enforcement officers across Canada” with a primary objective of “inform[ing] investigators of the human trafficking legislation.”[38]

B.  Other Federal Programs

According to the National Action Plan, Status of Women Canada has collaborated with the RCMP to “deliver training on human trafficking to officials in law enforcement, the justice system, and border and immigration services.”[39]

The National Action Plan also states that “[t]he Victims Fund has supported trafficking in persons projects including, in partnership with Public Safety Canada’s Contribution Program to Combat Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking, the development and delivery of a training curriculum and toolkit on human trafficking for first responders.”[40]

According to the RCMP, “[i]nformation pertinent to training for police regarding cases of missing persons/children can be obtained through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR).”[41]

C.  Provincial-level Initiatives

1.  Ontario Online Training Initiative to Address Human Trafficking

A nonprofit organization, MCIS Language Services, with funding from the Province of Ontario and working through the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Ontario Victim Services, has developed the Online Training Initiative to Address Human Trafficking,[42] which provides a free online training program (available both in English and French) “for service providers who support victims of human trafficking across Ontario.”[43]  This is for persons in the “legal and law enforcement communities, as well as the labour, licensing enforcement, child support, health, welfare, social and victim services sectors.”[44]

The online training program[45] consists of a series of modules built around the following curriculum:

  • An overview of human trafficking
  • Human trafficking in Canada and Ontario
  • Dynamics of human trafficking
  • Human trafficking indicators
  • Service needs of trafficked persons
  • Unique needs of Aboriginal clients
  • Unique needs of Francophone clients
  • First response practices
  • Medium and long-term support.[46]

2.  British Columbia’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons Online Training Course

The province of British Columbia established the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP)[47] in order to develop and coordinate British Columbia’s strategy to combat human trafficking.48]  In 2011, the OCTIP, with federal funding and partnership, created Canada’s first online training course for front-line service providers called “Human Trafficking: Canada Is Not Immune”[49]  In 2012 the online training course was made available in French.[50]  The online training course consists of four modules, which provide “information on how to recognize, protect, and assist a person who may have been trafficked in Canada.”[51]  The course modules consist of: Defining human trafficking; Canada’s response to human trafficking; How to recognize a trafficked person; and How to help a trafficked person.[52]  Throughout the four modules and resource section of this training, participants will find the following resources:

  • Case studies, each of which presents a unique situation drawn from recorded cases.
  • Reality Checks that ask [participants] to reflect on the material in the context of [their] own area of practice.
  • Quotes from service providers and other subject matter experts.
  • A national list and map of organizations working on human trafficking issues in Canada.
  • Glossary terms (identified throughout the course by bolded words . . . ).
  • Printable PDFs of resources or specific sections of the training.
  • A comprehensive listing of web and print resources on human trafficking and related topics.[53]

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Prepared by Tariq Ahmad
Foreign Law Specialist
February 2016


[1] For core criminal legislation (including specific provisions), see Human Trafficking: Legislation, Department of Justice, http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/tp/legis-loi.html (last modified May 21, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/M4TQ-JDG3.

[2] Criminal Code, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-46.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/43FV-54NA.

[3] Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, S.C. 2001, c. 27, http://laws.justice.gc.ca/PDF/I-2.5.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/7PZ9-PTAS.

[4] Public Safety Canada, National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking 7 (2012), http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ntnl-ctn-pln-cmbt/ntnl-ctn-pln-cmbt-eng.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/2FWT-WTU3

[5] Trafficking in Persons (section 279.01) “carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years where the offence involved kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or death, and a maximum penalty of 14 years and a mandatory minimum penalty of 4 years in all other cases.”  Human Trafficking: Legislation, Department of Justice, supra note 1.

[6] Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years (section 279.011) “carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of 6 years where the offence involved kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or death, and a maximum penalty of 14 years and a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in all other cases”. Id.

[7] Receiving a Financial or Other Material Benefit for the purpose of committing or facilitating trafficking in persons – Adult Victim (subsection 279.02(1)) “carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.”  Id.

[8] Withholding or Destroying a Person’s Identity Documents (for example, a passport) for the purpose of committing or facilitating trafficking of that person – Adult Victim (subsection 279.03(1)) “carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment” and Withholding or Destroying a Person’s Identity Documents (for example, a passport) for the purpose of committing or facilitating trafficking of that person – Child Victim (subsection 279.03(2)) “carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a mandatory minimum penalty of 1 year.”  Id.

[9] Id. at 8.

[10] Id.

[11] Immigration and Refugee Protection Act § 118(1)(2).

[12] Id. § 121(1).

[13] Id. § 120.

[14] National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4.

[15] Human Trafficking, Public Safety Canada, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/hmn-trffckng/index-en.aspx (last updated Dec. 16, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/2E9C-NJHZ

[16] Id.; National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4.

[17] Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking,RCMP, http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ht-tp/q-a-trafficking-traite-eng.htm#q10 (last updated Mar. 13, 2014), archived athttps://perma.cc/TF9A-ZJR5.

[18] Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, RCMP, http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ht-tp/index-eng.htm (last updated March 13, 2014), archived at https://perma.cc/93AX-TKA9.

[19] Id.

[20] Protection and Assistance for Victims of Human Trafficking, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/ applications/trp.asp (last updated Sept. 18, 2013), archived at https://perma.cc/CWA3-CY9T.

[21] Human Trafficking, CBSA, http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/security-securite/ht-tp-eng.html (last updated Sept. 24, 2014), archived at https://perma.cc/496U-G8N3.

[22] Id.

[23] National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4, at 15.

[24] Human Trafficking, supra note 22.

[25] Red Willow Consulting Inc., Dr. Yvonne Boyer, Peggy Kampouris, Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls 42 (May 2014) (prepared for the Research and Analysis Division, Community Safety and Countering Crime Branch, Public Safety Canada), http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2015/sp-ps/PS18-8-2014-eng.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/3DK2-NKAN.

[26] Id.

[27] National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4, at 11.

[28] The Harper Government Launches Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, Public Safety Canada (June 6, 2012), available at https://web.archive.org/web/20130703001948/https://www.public safety.gc.ca/media/nr/2012/nr20120606-eng.aspx, archived at https://perma.cc/G5GS-PQGV.

[29] Bethany Hastie, Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking: Initial Reflections, Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law (June 15, 2002), http://oppenheimer.mcgill. ca/Canada-s-National-Action-Plan-to, archived at https://perma.cc/R3RW-6L6E.

[30] Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, supra note 19.

[31] National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4, at 18.

[32] RCMP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2014–15 Departmental Performance Report (2015), http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/royal-canadian-mounted-police-2014-15-departmental-performance-report, archived at https://perma.cc/A8RU-7XZT.

[33] Introduction to Human Trafficking, CPKN, (2016) http://www.cpkn.ca/course_human_trafficking, archived at https://perma.cc/WNY6-RLJD.

[34] Publications and Resources, RCMP, http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ht-tp/publications/index-eng.htm#l7 (last updated Apr. 15, 2014), archived at https://perma.cc/AUZ4-XN6M.

[35]Human Trafficking Investigator’s Course (HTIC), Canadian Police College, https://www.cpc.gc.ca/en/htic (last updated Jan. 26, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/LG5W-39L7.

[36] Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking, supra note 18.

[37] U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Canada, http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2015/243411.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/9FR6-DBC9

[38] Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking, supra note 18.

[39] National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, supra note 4, at 24.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Online Training Initiative to Address Human Trafficking, MCIS Language Services,http://helpingtraffickedpersons.org/ (last visited Feb. 16, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/BL3B-TD3Q.

[43] Human Trafficking – Online Training for Service Providers, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/ovss/human_trafficking/, archived at https://perma.cc/82VV-BTE4.  

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] Online Training Initiative to Address Human Trafficking: Curriculum, MCIS Language Services, http://helpingtraffickedpersons.org/curriculum/ (last visited Feb. 12, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/B6XL-HHKZ.  

[48] British Columbia Ministry of Justice, BC’s Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking 14 (2013–2016) (Mar. 2013), http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/criminal-justice/victims-of-crime/human-trafficking/about-us/action-plan.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4J5J-PZS9.

[49] Welcome to the Online Training Human Trafficking: Canada is Not Immune 2nd Edition – 2014, OCTIP, http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/octiptraining/index.html, archived at https://perma.cc/FGW9-DMS7.  

[50] Id.

[51] Id.

[52] How the Course is Set Up, OCTIP,http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/octiptraining/, archived at https://perma.cc/AU23-TL53.

[53] Features of This Course, OCTIP, http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/octiptraining/overview/002.html (last visited Feb. 16, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/DJT2-3B37.

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Last Updated: 03/18/2016