Combatting Human Trafficking

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International law: The United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The Protocol establishes the most widely accepted international framework to fight human trafficking, especially of women and children.

Canada ratified the Trafficking in Persons Protocol in 2002 and is committed to developing laws and programs to implement it. The Protocol requires countries that have ratified it to focus on three main areas, referred to as the three P's:

  • Protection: Protecting and assisting those who have been trafficked.
  • Prevention: Preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • Prosecution: Prosecuting the traffickers.

In addition, Canada's National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking recognizes a fourth P, partnerships.

  • Partnerships: Partnership is the promotion of cooperation among countries in order to effectively meet the goals of protection, prevention and prosecution.

Canadian law

Human trafficking is a serious criminal offence in Canada. Both the Criminal Code of Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act criminalize all aspects of human trafficking.

Criminal Code

The four human trafficking offences in the Criminal Code are:

  • Trafficking of a person (section 279.01) makes it a crime to participate in certain acts towards another person for the purpose of exploiting them. The sentence ranges from life imprisonment for cases involving kidnapping, aggravated assault, sexual assault or death to a maximum of 14 years for other cases.
  • Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years (section 279.011) adds a mandatory minimum sentence of six years imprisonment where the offence involves aggravated assault, sexual assault or death of the trafficked child and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in other cases.
  • Material benefit (section 279.02) makes it a crime to receive a financial or other material benefit knowing the benefit was a result of human trafficking. There is a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
  • Withholding or destroying travel or identification documents (section 279.03), for example someone's passport or visa, for the purpose of committing human trafficking, is an offence. There is a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

A person cannot legally consent to being exploited under the Criminal Code.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

This law criminalizes the bringing of people into Canada through specified means. It is an offence to use deception, coercion, abduction, fraud, force, or threats of force to transport someone across the border. It is also an offence to hide or transport people who have been recruited in this way, once they arrive in Canada. Penalties for these offences are up to $1 million in fines or life in prison or both.

The Act makes it an offence to use identity documents, such as a visa or passport, for the purpose of human trafficking or smuggling.The maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years in prison.

For the complete text of these Criminal Code and Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sections, visit

Federal efforts

In 2012, Canada created the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking . This plan committed $25 million over four years to strengthen Canada's efforts to prevent, detect and prosecute human trafficking as well as assist trafficked persons. A Human Trafficking Task Force led by Public Safety Canada has been established.

For more information visit

British Columbia's efforts

BC's Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) is responsible for the overall coordination of the provincial strategy to address human trafficking. Fighting human trafficking requires a multidisciplinary response involving participation from all levels of government. The OCTIP works with both federal and provincial governments, law enforcement, academic organizations and community agencies.

BC Action Plan-Wikibook.jpg

OCTIP's mandate is to:

  • support communities in building local capacity to address human trafficking — from prevention to service provision,
  • raise awareness and provide training and education,
  • identify gaps and barriers in services, policies and legislation that impede trafficked persons' internationally-protected human rights, and
  • contribute to national and international efforts to combat human trafficking.

British Columbia has a BC Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking which lays out three key priorities and five priority action areas for responding to human trafficking issues across the province for the years 2013-2016.

Law enforcement

Canada's national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), has established a Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre. The RCMP, municipal police forces, Canada Border Services Agency, non-government community organizations, and immigration lawyers in BC continue to work together to develop strategies to stop human trafficking.

  • Prevention: Increase public awareness to help identify possible victims and traffickers, improve education for law enforcement, proactively investigate criminal organizations, and develop international agreements.
  • Protection: Ensure the safety of trafficked persons through investigation, risk assessment and referral to appropriate community services.
  • Prosecution: Gather evidence so traffickers can be prosecuted.
  • Partnership: Work in partnership with others, both domestically and internationally.

There are many challenges for law enforcement, for example:

  • The international nature of trafficking — countries have different laws and the authorities in source countries may be involved in crime.
  • The hidden nature of trafficking and its connection to organized crime.
  • Trafficked people are frequently moved to different locations.
  • Trafficked people fear the police and immigration authorities and are afraid to testify against traffickers.
  • Trafficked people may not see themselves as victims of crime.

Community and faith-based organizations

Community-based agencies are enhancing their knowledge to extend support services to emerging trafficked persons. Faith-based organizations are also contributing efforts to eliminate human trafficking by raising awareness of the issues within their congregation and community.

The Trafficking in Persons Protocol emphasizes respect for the human rights of trafficked people and urges countries to cooperate with non-governmental organizations to provide for the basic needs of trafficked persons.

A comprehensive list of services is available through OCTIP's training site at

Key services a trafficked person may require include:

  • housing,
  • medical and psychological care,
  • counselling and information in a language understood by the trafficked person,
  • material help such as clothing and food,
  • employment and education opportunities,
  • legal assistance, and
  • help to connect to police and government agencies.

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP)

The Trafficking in Persons Protocol also requires countries to consider adopting laws that allow trafficked persons to remain in the receiving country, temporarily or permanently. A Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) is available from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). The process starts with an interview with an immigration officer. At this point, the trafficked person does not have to prove that they have been trafficked, only that there is a possibility. The trafficked person is not required to help in any criminal investigation or to testify against their trafficker.

If the immigration officer believes a person may have been trafficked, they can issue a TRP. This gives the person legal status in Canada for up to 180 days. The permit can be re-issued at the end of the 180-day period by the CIC officer based on the trafficked person's situation. The trafficked person will have access to health care and counselling and they may also apply for a work permit.

For more information on the TRP, see Human Trafficking: Canada is Not Immune, Module 4.

Keep in mind the following principles when applying a human rights approach to providing services:

  • Ensure privacy so that you do not put a trafficked person in danger.
  • Help them regain control over their lives.
  • Be supportive and patient, always treating the trafficked person with dignity and respect.
  • Make sure referrals are to culturally appropriate services.
  • Help the trafficked person work with police if they choose to do so.

A complete list of guiding principles is available at

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Human Trafficking in Canada © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.