As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being a humanitarian nation. Whether it was embedding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms into our constitution in 1982 or resettling 25,000 Syrian Refugees in 2016, Canada has always stood firmly on one principle: every individual has the right to be treated humanely (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada). Since we stand on such strong humanitarian grounds, one would think that we are a utopia of some sort, right? Wrong. Despite the efforts we take, constant injustices take place on Canadian soil, every day, every hour, every minute. One such injustice is human trafficking.
Human trafficking, according to the Public Safety Canada website, “involves the recruitment, transportation, harboring and/or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labor.” In other words, human trafficking is a “modern day form of slavery”(Public Safety Canada). It is a hard pill to swallow, that even in today’s world people are bound by the chains of enslavement, especially in a country such as Canada, but it is a pill that we must swallow; in order to tackle the issue, we must first open our eyes and recognize it.
Slavery first surfaced in Canada in the 1600s with the transatlantic slave trade (which was responsible for forcing African men and women into slavery), and the enslavement of indigenous people (Mcrae). Although slavery was later abolished in Canada in 1834, it has still maintained a presence in Canadian society. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date as to when what we now know as human trafficking surfaced in Canada, but over the last few decades, many women (especially from indigenous communities) have gone missing; it can safely be concluded that many of these women were victims of human trafficking (May). According to Statistics Canada, from 2009-2018, Canadian police reported 1,708 cases of human trafficking. However, the real figure is considered by many professionals to be astoundingly higher, as most human trafficking cases go unreported due to victims fearing for their lives and not pressing charges, or simply being unable to escape. Ontario’s Anti-Trafficking Director, Jeniffer Richardson, even said that “the number of how many people are actually being trafficked in Canada I don't think anyone could ever give you because it is such a complex and hidden crime" (Marwaha).
The victims of human trafficking are primarily female; 97% of trafficking cases are comprised of females as per Statistics Canada. Indigenous girls and women are considered especially at risk of being trafficked. Victims also include “trans people and youth of any race or gender, often with histories of being marginalized, abused or isolated”(Grant). Many trafficking victims are also minors. Statistics Canada reported that 28% of the trafficking victims between 2009-2018 were under the age of 18. What further disturbs me is that roughly 1 in 3 victims were trafficked by a current or former intimate partner, and another third by someone they considered a friend (Statistics Canada).
I have covered much of Canada’s history with human trafficking, but you must be wondering: what do the numbers look like now? Since 2018, the cases have only risen. Nova Scotia (which only comprises 3% of the country’s population) has the highest rate of incidents in Canada, with “2.1 victims for every 100,000 people”, compared to a rate of 1.0 in previous years (Lopez and Statistics Canada). Ontario follows close behind with cities such as Brampton, Mississauga, and Caledon having a rate of 1.14 per 100 000 people, compared to an average rate of 0.9 previously (Lopez and Statistics Canada). The numbers are difficult to believe and simply one question arises in my mind: what actions have been taken by the Canadian government to reduce these soaring figures?
Canada, unsurprisingly, was one of the first countries to sign the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, in 2000 (Public Safety Canada). However, the government of Canada's four-year National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was not introduced until 2012. Once the four-year plan ended, the Canadian government did not announce another plan until just last year. On September 4, 2019, under a “National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking”, the Canadian government announced an investment of $57.22 million over five years and $10.28 million annually thereafter in “new federal funding to combat human trafficking”(Public Safety Canada). Although there was a significant gap between the federal government’s two most recent plans, it is important to note that provincial governments did announce their own initiatives during these periods. For example, Ontario’s Strategy to End Human Trafficking was launched in 2016 (Government of Ontario). When examining all that Canada has done in terms of acting against human trafficking, it is clear that although there are numerous flaws, the government has taken action but the question then becomes, are these actions enough? What truly leaves me dissatisfied with our system is that of the 1,708 reported cases of human trafficking from 2009-2018, almost half have not resulted in a conviction (Statistics Canada). In other words, police have not identified an accused person in connection to the incident. Therefore, half of the victims are still eagerly waiting for justice. Canada can and must do better.
Overall, human trafficking is becoming increasingly prevalent across the country. Canadians as a whole need to work together to combat human trafficking and get to its roots. Not only can the government do more, but we as Canadian citizens also need to take on some accountability and work to prevent this issue from growing even further. This will require not just more funding, but the elimination of victim-blaming culture and common misconceptions pertaining to the issue. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “Canada has always been there to help people who need it”, and right now human trafficking victims need the full attention of Canadians.
“'Anyone Can Be a Victim': Canadian High School Girls Being Lured into Sex Trade | CBC News.” CBC News, CBC/Radio Canada, 29 Jan. 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/human-sex-trafficking-domestic-1.3956214. Accessed 4 August 2020.
Jim Clifford May, et al. “Bill C-268, Human Trafficking and Slavery in Canada Past and Present.” Active History, 15 July 2010, activehistory.ca/2010/05/bill-c-268-human-trafficking-and-slavery-in-canada-past-and-present/#:~:text=As a former British colony,trade over 200 years ago.&text=Canadians still buy and sell,sexual exploitation and forced labour. Accessed 4 August 2020.
Cotter, Adam. “This Juristat Article Profiles Human Trafficking Incidents That Came to the Attention of Canadian Police between 2009 and 2018.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 23 June 2020, www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2020001/article/00006-eng.htm. Accessed 5 August 2020
Grant, Tavia. “The Trafficked: How Sex Trafficking Works in Canada.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Feb. 2016, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-trafficked-how-sex-trafficking-works-in-canada/article28700689/. Accessed 4 August 2020.
Government of Ontario. “Ontario's Strategy to End Human Trafficking: First Year Progress Report | Ministry of Community and Social Services”, Government of Ontario, www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/humanTrafficking/firstYearProgress.aspx#:~:text=Ontario's Strategy to End Human Trafficking, launched in 2016, aims,and enhance justice-sector initiatives. Accessed 5 August 2020.
“Human Trafficking.” Public Safety Canada / Sécurité Publique Canada, 30 July 2020, www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/hmn-trffckng/index-en.aspx.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, 16 Jan. 2020, www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/canada-role/timeline.html. Accessed 4 August 2020.
Lopez-Martinez, Melissa. “Sex Trafficking Still a Prevalent Issue Across Canada, Advocates and Police Say.” CTVNews, CTV News, 20 Feb. 2020, www.ctvnews.ca/canada/sex-trafficking-still-a-prevalent-issue-across-canada-advocates-and-police-say-1.4820944. Accessed 5 August 2020
Moniquemuise. “25% Of Canada's Human Trafficking Victims Are Minors: Statistics Canada.” Global News, Global News, 20 July 2016, globalnews.ca/news/2819281/25-of-canadas-human-trafficking-victims-are-minors-statistics-canada/. Accessed 5 August 2020.
“The Story of Slavery in Canadian History.” CMHR, humanrights.ca/story/the-story-of-slavery-in-canadian-history#:~:text=On March 25, 1807, the,the British Empire in 1834. Accessed 5 August 2020.