Victims of Human Trafficking (4:VIII)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 3, 2023.|
Human trafficking is a complex and multifaceted crime that can occur both domestically and internationally. The victims of human trafficking are deprived of their basic rights to freedom and movement. Thus, human trafficking is often described as modern day slavery. Each case of human trafficking varies, and subsequently differs for each individual person.
The publication Human Trafficking Indicators from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime provides a comprehensive list of indicators that a person may be trafficked.
Despite the severity of the offence, human trafficking convictions are rare. This may be in part due to the complexity and subtleties of trafficking operations as well as reluctance on the part of victims to come forward. Victims may not come forward for a variety of reasons, including being fearful of their lives or having limited language skills.
In 2007, BC established the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP). OCTIP is part of the Victim Services and Crime Prevention Division of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. OCTIP develops and coordinates strategies to address human trafficking within the province. OCTIP takes a human rights approach that focuses on the rights and needs of trafficked persons. This approach gives back control to the trafficked person by offering information, referrals, support and assistance, but allows the trafficked person to make decisions and choices for themselves. Law enforcement and Crown Counsel prosecute human trafficking cases in BC. See the Resources section below for more information on OCTIP.
A. Governing Legislation and Resources
Human trafficking is an offence under both the Criminal Code (ss 279.01-279.04), and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act [IRPA] (Part 3).
Sections 279.01-279.04 of the Criminal Code make it an offence to:
- Recruit, transport, transfer, receive, hold or hide a person, or exercise control, direction or influence over an adult or a minor’s movement for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person.
- Benefit materially from human trafficking.
Exploitation is defined in s 279.04(1) of the Criminal Code in the following terms:
- “a person exploits another person if they cause them to provide, or offer to provide labour or a service by engaging in conduct that, in all the circumstances, could reasonably be expected to cause the other person to believe that their safety or the safety of a person known to them would be threatened if they failed to provide, or offer to provide, the labour or service”.
In order to determine whether an accused exploited another person, the court may consider whether the accused (a) used or threatened to use force or coercion; (b) used deception; or (c) abused a position of trust, power or authority (s 279.04(2)). Because of the high stigma and severe penalties resulting from a conviction, the mens rea for human trafficking offences is subjective fault. It is also important to note that consent is not a defence to human trafficking (s 279.01(2)).
Part 3 of IRPA applies to smuggling and trafficking of persons from another country into Canada. Sections 117 and 118 make it an offence to:
- Organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, their coming into Canada is or would be in contravention of IRPA (s 117(1)).
- Knowingly organize the coming into Canada or one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use of threat of force or coercion (s 118(1)).
The penalties for the offences in Part 3 of IRPA include fines of up to $1,000,000 and imprisonment of up to 14 years (where fewer than 10 persons are being smuggled or trafficked) or up to life. Mandatory minimum sentences apply where the person, in committing the offence, endangered the life or safety, or caused bodily harm or death to the persons with respect to whom the offence was committed, and/or if the commission of the offence was for profit or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group (See IRPA ss 117(2)-(3)).
2. Temporary Resident Permit for Victims of Human Trafficking
Many victims of human trafficking find themselves in Canada without proper documentation and at risk of deportation. To address this issue, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) can issue a special temporary resident permit to victims of human trafficking (This is referred to as the VTIP TRP – Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Temporary Resident Permit). The VTIP TRP gives presumed trafficked persons legal status in Canada and is valid for up to 180 days. Depending on the circumstances of the individual, CIC can even reissue the TRP at the end of the 180-day period. The benefits of the VTIP TRP include access to health care benefits and trauma counselling through the Interim Federal Health Program. A work permit is also issued and in BC, social assistance benefits may be available. A presumed trafficked person with a VTIP TRP is eligible to apply for social assistance benefits. Victims of human trafficking need not testify against their trafficker in order to be eligible for an initial TRP. However, immigration officers will interview an individual in order to decide whether they are eligible for the TRP.
For more information about obtaining a VTIP TRP, call CIC at 1-888-242 2100 or visit the IRCC Temporary Resident Permits webpage
For information on the signs that a person may have been trafficked; services available to victims of human trafficking, including legal services, health care, shelter, interpretation, and counselling; and links to resources, see Human Trafficking in BC - gov.bc.ca
- The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is a confidential, multilingual service, operating 24/7 to connect victims and survivors with social services, law enforcement, and emergency services, as well as receive tips from the public.
- Individuals with information about a crime are able to provide an anonymous tip by calling the tip line at 1 (800) 222-8477
- OCTIP joins forces with key provincial ministries, federal departments, municipal governments, law enforcement agencies, community based and aboriginal organizations, in the development and delivery of an integrated and permanent response to human trafficking in B.C.
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