Conroy and Danielle Sutton, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety
Release date: June 9, 2022
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services in Canada reported 2,977 incidents of human trafficking—that is, recruiting, transporting,
transferring, holding, concealing and exercising control over a person for the
purposes of exploitation—between 2010 and 2020.
this time, nearly nine in ten (86%) incidents of human trafficking were
reported in census metropolitan areas, compared with around six in ten (58%)
violent incidents overall.
than half (57%) of the incidents involved human trafficking offences alone
while 43% involved at least one other type of violation, most often related to the
vast majority (96%) of detected victims of human trafficking were women and
girls. In all, one in four (25%) victims were under the age of 18. Meanwhile,
one in five (20%) were aged 25 to 34.
over half (52%) of all human trafficking incidents had no accused person
identified in connection with the incident.
large majority (81%) of persons accused of human trafficking were men and boys.
Most commonly, accused persons were aged 18 to 24 (41%), followed by those aged
25 to 34 (36%).
on results from a record linkage, there were 1,793 unique persons accused of
police-reported human trafficking between 2009 and 2020. Three-quarters (75%)
of these accused had previously been implicated in other criminal activity.
Following an initial contact with police for human trafficking, one in nine
(11%) accused were implicated in a separate incident of human trafficking during
the reference period.
2009/2010 and 2019/2020, there were 834 cases completed in adult criminal
courts that involved at least one charge of human trafficking.
trafficking cases took almost twice as long to complete than violent adult
criminal court cases. The median amount of time it took to complete an adult
criminal court case involving at least one violent charge was 176 days. In
contrast, it took a median of 373 days to complete a case involving at least
one human trafficking charge.
the most serious decision in adult criminal court, a finding of guilt was less
common for cases involving human trafficking (12%) than for those involving sex
trade charges (33%) or violent charges (48%).
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in persons, also known as human trafficking, is often described as a modern-day
form of slavery that is thought to affect every country worldwide, either as a
point of origin or destination (Ross et al. 2015;
UNODC 2021a). Human trafficking
involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or exercising control,
direction or influence over the movements of a person for the purposes of
exploitation (Public Safety Canada 2020a;
Public Safety Canada 2019; UNODC 2021a). Taking
into consideration the illicit nature of human trafficking, data compiled by
the International Labour Organization estimate that, in 2016, just under 20
million persons worldwide were victims of trafficking either through forced
labour or sexual exploitation (International Labour Organization 2017). Canadian data reveal that the number of
police-reported incidents have been increasing since 2009 (Cotter
Ibrahim 2021; Parliament of Canada
of which the vast majority of investigations were related to some form of
sexual exploitation (Department of Justice 2015; UNODC
this increase is due to a rise in the number of incidents, improved detection
or increased public awareness cannot be determined through official data. Data
on trafficking for forced labour is limited and, as such, it is not possible to
measure the extent of this form of human trafficking, in Canada or abroad. Research
to date, however, has shown how gender and age of forced labour trafficking victims
varies across geography and economic sector, thereby affecting different genders
in unique ways (UNODC 2021a). Conversely, human trafficking for sexual
exploitation is highly gendered and affects women and girls disproportionately,
although men and boys can also be victims (Parliament of Canada 2018; Public
Safety Canada 2019; UNODC 2021a). The risk
is heightened among particular groups such as Indigenous women and girls, vulnerable
youth or those with prior involvement with the child welfare system, LGBTQ2+
migrants and others who experience social or economic marginalization (Baird et
Parliament of Canada 2018; Public Safety Canada 2020a; Public Safety Canada 2019; UNODC 2021a).
trafficking is not to be confused with human smuggling, notwithstanding a major
overlap between the two. The latter is, by definition, a transnational crime
that often involves persons paying to be illegally transported across
international borders with the promise of freedom upon arrival at the country
of destination (Department of Justice 2015;
Public Safety Canada 2020a). In
contrast, human trafficking can also occur within a country’s borders, where
victims are subjected to coercive practices and exploited in the sex trade or for
forced labour (Department of Justice 2015;
Public Safety Canada 2020a). That
said, those who are smuggled across borders may be coerced and exploited,
making them victims of human trafficking upon arrival in destination countries.
has legislated provisions to combat human trafficking both domestically and
transnationally, as stipulated in the Criminal Code and Immigration
and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA; see Text box 1).
The Criminal Code prohibits all forms of human trafficking. Further, in
2019, the Government of Canada announced a five-year National Strategy to
Combat Human Trafficking (Public Safety
Accordingly, efforts to identify, protect and empower human trafficking victims
while holding perpetrators accountable remain an ongoing governmental priority.
article uses data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey to examine
trends in human trafficking incidents that were reported to police, and
discusses victim and accused person characteristics. In addition, this article
will highlight prior contact with police among those accused of human
trafficking. Data from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) are also
presented to examine outcomes of cases related to human trafficking in court.
article was produced with funding support from Public Safety Canada.
Challenges with measuring human trafficking
trafficking victims are often isolated and hidden from the public (Farrell et al. 2019; Farrell et al. 2010; Public Safety Canada 2020a; Public Safety Canada 2019). Some healthcare
workers report a lack of training in identifying and assisting individuals in
potential trafficking situations (Ross et al.
2015) and victims may be unwilling or unable to report for various
reasons. They may, for example, have a general distrust of authorities, be
fearful or ashamed, lack knowledge of their rights in Canada, experience
language barriers or have a desire to protect their traffickerNote
(Casassa et al. 2021; Department of Justice 2015; Farrell et al. 2019; Farrell et al. 2010; Parliament of Canada 2018; Public Safety Canada 2019; Ward and Fouladvand 2018).
ability of police services to detect human trafficking cases will vary by the
amount of resources, training and specialized units available. The more
resources and training available, the better equipped police services will be
to properly categorize cases of human trafficking, interview and assist victims,
and recommend or lay appropriate charges against accused persons (Farrell et al. 2019; Farrell et al. 2014; Farrell et al. 2010). Without victim testimony,
however, many police services may struggle to proactively identify human
trafficking cases, resulting in an underreporting of the crime.
human trafficking cases are identified and charges are laid, additional
challenges arise during prosecution. Successful prosecution often depends on
victim testimony and corroborating evidence. Human trafficking victims,
however, may be seen as less credible due to factors related to
vulnerability (e.g., substance use, homelessness, mental health issues), their
often coerced involvement in crimes and issues with consistency in recall due
to trauma (Farrell et al. 2019; Farrell et al. 2014; Farrell et al. 2010; Ward and Fouladvand 2018). In addition to
credibility concerns, victims may disappear before trial or recant their
initial testimony resulting in a substantial number of human trafficking
charges being stayed or withdrawn by prosecutors (Farrell
et al. 2014; Millar et al. 2017;
Parliament of Canada 2018).
by the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline provides the opportunity to
supplement official data, improving estimates of the nature and scope of human
trafficking in Canada (see Text box 3).
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the following human trafficking offences were added to the Criminal Code:
279.01: trafficking in persons
279.02: receiving financial or other material benefit for the purpose of
committing or facilitating trafficking in persons
279.03: withholding or destroying identity documents (e.g., a passport, whether
authentic or forged) for the purpose of committing or facilitating trafficking
of that person
279.04: defines exploitation for the purpose of human trafficking offences.
2008/2009, the first case involving a human trafficking charge using this new
legislation was completed in adult criminal court.
section 279.011 was added to the Criminal Code which imposed mandatory
minimum penalties for individuals accused of the trafficking of persons under
the age of 18 years.
the Criminal Code was amended to allow for the prosecution of
Canadians and permanent residents for human trafficking offences committed
to provide judges with an interpretive tool to assist in determining whether
exploitation occurred (subsection 279.04(2)).
mandatory minimum penalties were imposed on the main trafficking offence
(section 279.01), as well as for receiving a material benefit from the
trafficking of children (subsection 279.02(2)) and withholding or destroying
documents to facilitate the trafficking of children (279.03(2)).
118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), introduced in
2002, criminalizes the cross-border trafficking of one or more persons by means
of abduction, fraud, deception, threatened or actual use of force or coercion (Public Safety Canada 2019). While human
trafficking differs from human smuggling, the IRPA also prohibits the smuggling
of persons into Canada.
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Section 1: Police-reported human trafficking
police-reported data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey, this
section presents trends in human trafficking in Canada. In this section, data
from 2010 to 2020 are often combined to better examine trends and
characteristics of human trafficking in Canada. Following an analysis of high-level
national and regional trends, the characteristics of human trafficking
incidents, victims and accused persons are discussed.
Police-reported human trafficking declined slightly in 2020
and 2020, there were 2,977 incidents of human trafficking reported by police
services in Canada.Note
This represented an average annual rate of 0.7 incidents per 100,000
population. Incidents of human trafficking accounted for 0.01% of all
police-reported incidents during this time.
of year-over-year figures, police-reported human trafficking decreased slightly
in 2020 compared with 2019, from 546 to 515 incidents, or 1.5 to 1.4 incidents
per 100,000 population (Chart 1). Incidents of human trafficking had increased
steadily from 2010 to 2017, decreased in 2018 and peaked in 2019. The general
increase in human trafficking over this time period may reflect an increase in
the actual occurrence of this type of crime, but it could also be the result of
enhanced efforts by police to detect, investigate and lay or recommend human
Further, the small decline in 2020 may be the result of the unique and
challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein this type of crime
might have been less likely to occur and also more likely to go undetected when
it did occur. For example, with widespread lockdown measures and restrictions, not
only would there have been fewer venues open to facilitate human trafficking
(e.g., bars, adult clubs, massage parlours) but potential victims would have
been easier to hold without detection while their friends and family, and service
providers, would have had fewer opportunities to detect and report trafficking
suspicions (UNODC 2021b; see Text box 2).
Chart 1 start
Data table for Chart 1
|Year||Criminal Code||Immigration and Refugee Protection Act||Total|
|number of incidents|
Chart 1 end
incidents of human trafficking include Criminal Code and IRPA offences. Between
2010 and 2020, Criminal Code offences represented 70% of all human
trafficking incidents while IRPA offences represented 30%, meaning three in ten
incidents involved an international border crossing. While both types of human
trafficking offences increased in general over the same time period, Criminal
Code offences declined between 2019 and 2020 specifically.Note
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temporary layoffs across regions and industries brought on by the COVID-19
pandemic caused concern that the potential number of human trafficking victims
would increase due to spikes in unemployment (UNODC
2021a). While some anecdotal evidence suggests that human
trafficking has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic (CCTEHT 2021b), the ability of service providers
to support victims has been impacted negatively due to restrictions brought on
by the pandemic.
2020, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking administered a survey to its
service providers to ascertain how the pandemic has impacted their service
delivery to victims (CCTEHT 2021b).
Service providers continued to accept referrals but with reduced hours, remote
communication and a primary focus on managing crisis cases. Shelters, with the
implementation of new health and safety policies, made significant
modifications to their housing rules and bed capacity (Ibrahim 2022; Women’s
Shelters Canada 2020). In-person counseling services were prohibited,
impacting victims of human trafficking negatively. Accessing counseling
services now required a working computer, Internet access and privacy—requirements
that may not be available to those most in need.
observations were documented after surveying residential facilities for victims
of abuse. Specifically, almost eight in ten (77%) facilities reported that the
COVID-19 pandemic impacted their ability to serve victims to a moderate or
great extent (Ibrahim 2022). The most
frequently reported challenges were related to accommodation capacity, providing
services to victims and staffing issues. In response, most facilities used new
technologies to communicate with victims, adapted or added new services,
designated self-isolation areas and required some staff and volunteers to work
from home (Ibrahim 2022). Many
facilities saw an increase in crisis calls but a decrease in demand for shelter
admissions, which may have reduced the ability of service providers to detect
and report cases of human trafficking.
to police-reported data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey,
there was a 3% year-over-year decline in the number of incidents involving a human
trafficking violation between 2019 and 2020. The largest declines were noted in
October (-33%), April (-19%) and November (-15%) 2020, compared with the same
months the year prior. These declines coincide with Canada entering the first
and second waves of the pandemic and, in several provinces and territories,
their corresponding lockdown measures. As such, during these months, potential
victims were more likely to be separated from persons who could report
suspicions of trafficking to the authorities. At the same time, because many
individuals were living in isolation and spending increased time online, human
trafficking may have increased due to online recruitment and grooming
strategies but the ability to detect such increases were hindered due to the
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Nova Scotia and Ontario report higher rates of human trafficking than the
to previous human trafficking trends in Canada (Cotter
2020; Ibrahim 2021), between
2010 and 2020, the highest average annual rates of human trafficking in the
provinces were documented in Nova Scotia and Ontario (Table 1).Note
While Ontario and Nova Scotia represented 39% and 3% of the Canadian population
in 2020 (Statistics Canada 2022), between
2010 and 2020 they accounted for 65% and 7% of police-reported human
trafficking incidents, respectively. This pattern was observed in 2020
specifically when Nova Scotia reported 6.2 incidents and Ontario 2.3 incidents
per 100,000 population, both above the national average (1.4 incidents).
the figures documented in Ontario may be expected considering it is Canada’s
most populous province and home to the busiest international border crossings,Note
the rate of human trafficking in Nova Scotia is better explained by geographic
location. Nova Scotia in general, and Halifax in particular, has been
identified as a trafficking hub frequently used to move victims from Atlantic
Canada to the rest of Canada (Barrett 2013;
Cotter 2020). Since 2010, almost half
(45%) of all human trafficking incidents in Nova Scotia were IRPA-related, the
highest proportion of any province or territory.
Large majority of human trafficking incidents reported by police in urban
2010, the large majority (86%) of human trafficking incidents have been
reported by police services in census metropolitan areas (CMAs),Note
and this was consistent in 2020 (82%) (Table 2).
In comparison, around six in ten (58%) violent incidents were reported in CMAs
overall. Between 2010 and 2020, just under half (48%) of all police-reported
incidents of human trafficking were reported in five CMAs: TorontoNote
(610 incidents, accounting for 20% of all incidents in Canada), OttawaNote
(305, or 10% of all incidents), Montréal (220, or 7% of all incidents), Halifax
(175, or 6% of all incidents) and HamiltonNote
(108, or 4% of all incidents).
the same time period (2010 to 2020), rates of human trafficking were highest in
Halifax (3.7 incidents per 100,000 population), followed by Thunder Bay (3.0),
Ottawa (2.7), Peterborough (2.6) and Windsor (2.3).
with the average annual rates for 2010 to 2020, several CMAs had a rate of
human trafficking that was notably higher in 2020 specifically: Thunder Bay
(15.9 incidents per 100,000 population), Peterborough (14.7), Halifax (8.5),
St. Catharines–Niagara (6.4), Saskatoon (4.7), Barrie (4.6) and Windsor (4.2).
Sharp increases in rates may be attributed to increased funding to develop or
expand human trafficking units; improved familiarity with investigating human
trafficking cases and laying or recommending human trafficking charges; or a
combination of the two.
with the patterns documented above, human trafficking in Canada is thought to
take place primarily, though not exclusively, in urban centres (CCTEHT 2021a). Victims are often moved by
their traffickers to avoid detection. Further, doing so contributes to psychological
control as victims are often confused, isolated and dependent on those who are
trafficking them (CCTEHT 2021a).
When multiple types of violations are involved in human trafficking
incidents, most are related to the sex trade
Of all police-reported
incidents of human trafficking during 2010 to 2020, the vast majority (95%) had
a human trafficking offence listed as the most serious offence, either under
the Criminal Code or
than half (57%) of human trafficking incidents involved human trafficking
offences alone while 43% involved at least one other type of violation.Note
When there was an associated offence, it was most often related to the sex
More specifically, since 2010, over half (58%) of human trafficking incidents
with multiple violations involved an offence related to the sex trade. An
offence related to physical assault was the next most common (36%), followed by
a sexual assault or other sexual offence (25%) and an offence related to the
deprivation of freedom (12%).Note
Vast majority of detected human trafficking victims are women and girls,
one in four victims are younger than 18
and 2020, there were 2,278 victims of police-reported human trafficking in
Canada. Women and girls represented the vast majority (96%) of detected victims,
while men and boys accounted for a relatively small proportion (4%) of victims.Note
Nearly half (45%) of all victims of human trafficking during this time were
aged 18 to 24 (Chart 2).Note
One in four (25%) victims were under the age of 18, while one in five (20%)
were aged 25 to 34. The remaining victims were aged 35 to 44 (6%) or 45 and
older (3%). In all, seven in ten (69%) victims of human trafficking were girls
and young women aged 24 and younger.Note
Chart 2 start
Data table for Chart 2
|Age group (years)||Victims||Accused persons|
|Under 18Data table for chart 2 Note 1||25||5|
|18 to 24||45||41|
|25 to 34||20||36|
|35 to 44||6||12|
|45 and older||3||6|
Chart 2 end
have shown that traffickers target groups of women and girls who are at
particular risk due to factors related to poverty, isolation, precarious
housing, substance use, history of violence, childhood maltreatment and mental
health issues (Baird et al. 2020; Parliament of Canada 2018). During the recruitment
phase, traffickers regularly exploit these vulnerabilities through deception
and manipulation, providing victims with the affection, care and security they may
otherwise lack (UNODC 2021a). The
level of violence and coercion often increase over time, resulting in lasting
psychological harm for trafficking victims (Altun
et al. 2017; UNODC 2021a).
While police-reported data do not capture the emotional or psychological
trauma, they do collect information about physical injury. Where information
about injury was known, three in ten (29%) victims were injured. Of these
victims, most (88%) sustained minor physical injury while major injury was less
Nearly half of persons accused of human trafficking under age 25
most detected victims of human trafficking were women and girls, between 2010
and 2020, the large majority (81%) of the 2,091 persons accused of this type of
crime were men and boys.Note
Most commonly, accused persons were aged 18 to 24 (41%), followed by those aged
25 to 34 (36%). Smaller proportions of accused persons were aged 35 to 44
(12%), 45 and older (6%) or youth aged 12 to 17 (5%). Overall, nearly two-thirds
(65%) of those accused of human trafficking were men aged 18 to 34.
2010 and 2020, among accused persons, gender differences emerged by age group.
While men represented the large majority of adult accused persons—regardless of
age group—the majority (56%) of youth accused were girls.Note
The limited research on female traffickers in general, and female youth in
particular, highlights girls’ roles in recruitment. Female youth are perceived
as better positioned to appear trustworthy and are thus tasked with luring
other girls (Broad 2015; Kiensat et al. 2014). Of note, the boundaries
between female trafficking victims and offenders are becoming increasingly
blurred (UNODC 2020). As such, it may
be that a high proportion of female youth accused of trafficking were, or
continue to be, themselves a victim of human trafficking. In these instances,
they are often pressured to recruit others, or provide transportation, and are
not personally profiting from their actions (Broad
Nearly one-third of victims experience trafficking by an intimate partner
victims of police-reported human trafficking, between 2010 and 2020, one in ten
(9%) did not know the accused person involved in the incident—that is, they
were trafficked by a stranger—while the vast majority (91%) of victims knew
their trafficker. Consistent with previous research (Cotter 2020; Ibrahim 2021),
nearly one-third (31%) of victims were trafficked by a current or former
intimate partner. It is important to note that a tactic employed by some
traffickers is to target individuals and engage them in romantic relationships,
with the end goal to traffic them (UNODC 2021a).
one-quarter (25%) of victims, the accused person was a casual acquaintance,
followed by someone with whom the victim had a criminal relationshipNote
(14%) or a business relationship (12%), and friends (6%).
An accused person identified in just under half of human trafficking
incidents, charges laid against the vast majority of those accused
incidents of human trafficking reported by police between 2010 and 2020, just
over half (52%) have not been cleared, meaning an accused person has not been
identified by police.Note
Given that a notable proportion of victims of human trafficking were trafficked
by an intimate partner, it is possible that victims did not want to identify
the accused due to their shared bond or their reliance on the accused to have
their basic needs met (Luz 2020).
Other reasons why victims may not want to incriminate their accused include
safety concerns, fear of prosecution for crimes they were pressured to commit,
the emotional burden of the prosecution process or the shame and stigma
associated with reporting (Department of Justice
2015; Luz 2020).
were laid or recommended against an accused person for 44% of incidents during
this time period, while for the remaining 4% of incidents, an accused person
was identified but the incident was cleared in another way. This could include,
for example, the victim requesting that no further action be taken, the
incident being cleared by another agency,Note
or charges not being laid or recommended due to departmental discretion or
reasons beyond the control of the department.
vast majority (91%) of those accused of human trafficking, charges were laid or
recommended. This was similar among men and women (91% versus 92%) and slightly
higher among adults than youth (91% versus 88%) accused of this crime.
Human trafficking incidents more often result in charges for Criminal
Code violations than Immigration and Refugee Protection Act offences
2010 and 2020, there were notable differences in clearance rates among police-reported
incidents of human trafficking: the majority (57%) of incidents involving Criminal
Code violations were cleared by the laying or recommendation of charges,
whereas this was less common for incidents involving IRPA violations (21%).
Meanwhile, similar proportions were cleared by other meansNote
(4% and 5%, respectively).
trafficking incidents with IRPA offences also less commonly resulted in
charges. Among those accused of human trafficking since 2010, charges were laid
or recommended against 82% of those accused in IRPA-related incidents, compared
with 92% of those accused in Criminal Code-related incidents.
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Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by the Canadian Centre to End
Human Trafficking, was established in May 2019 to provide localized support to
anyone impacted by trafficking. The confidential and multilingual Hotline uses
a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach to share information with callers,
assist with safety planning, report tips to law enforcement under certain
circumstances and connect Canadians with hundreds of social and legal service
Hotline serves an additional function of allowing the Centre to collect and
store anonymous data on human trafficking cases that come to the attention of
the Hotline. During its first year in operation, the Hotline identified 415
cases of human trafficking involving 593 victims. A “case” refers to a unique
situation, event or series of events that prompted an individual to contact the
Hotline. In a report released recently by
the Centre, the Hotline’s 2019/2020 data revealed several notable findings:
three-quarters (71%) of human trafficking cases identified by the Hotline involved
(32%) of all individuals who contacted the Hotline were victims, while another
26% were family or friends of a victimNote
(90%) victims were female
four in ten (44%) victims who contacted the Hotline were still being trafficked,
while a somewhat smaller proportion (39%) had exited the trafficking situationNote
than one in ten (14%) victims were born outside of Canada
(26%) of all service referrals were for shelter or housing assistance, 69% of
which were for emergency or short-term shelter.
collected by the Hotline complements data captured by police and courts, and
will help to advance understanding of human trafficking in Canada.
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
in over 200 different languages, including 27 Indigenous languages. It can be accessed
by phone at 1-833-900-1010 or online at: www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca.
End of text box 3
Section 2: Linking police-reported incident and accused persons data
better understand the nature of human trafficking in Canada it is essential to
consider the offending patterns of those who commit such crimes. The Canadian
Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics at Statistics Canada
conducted an internal record linkage using police-reported incident and accused
person data files over a 12-year period (2009 to 2020) to determine prior and
repeated contact with police among persons accused of human trafficking.Note
This section examines
the number of times traffickers came into contact with the police—as persons
accused of crime—before and after they were accused of human trafficking, the
types of crimes they engaged in, and whether they acted alone or co-offended.Note
For more information about the human trafficking record linkage, see Survey description.
The large majority of persons accused of police-reported human trafficking involved
in multiple criminal incidents
2009 and 2020, there were 1,793 unique persons accused of police-reported human
trafficking, including Criminal Code and IRPA violations. Among these
accused persons, eight in ten (81%) were men while two in ten (19%) were women.Note
large majority (87%) of persons accused of human trafficking were identified by
police in multiple criminal incidents (not only human trafficking) between 2009
and 2020, and this was more common among men than women (90% versus 78%). On
average, those accused of human trafficking had been implicated in 11 unique
criminal incidents between 2009 and 2020. Men had been accused of an average of
12 incidents while women were accused of an average 7 incidents.
Three-quarters of those accused of human trafficking had prior contact with
results from the human trafficking record linkage, it is clear that those who
were accused of human trafficking had previously been implicated in other
criminal activity. Accused persons often had a prior contact with police before
their initial human trafficking contact and at least one other contact with
police (i.e., a re-contact) after the human trafficking incident.Note
Three-quarters (75%) were accused by police in a non-human trafficking incident
prior to being accused of the human trafficking incident (Chart 3). As
such, many individuals accused of human trafficking were already known to
police. Following contact with police for human trafficking, two-thirds (66%)
of accused had a re-contact with police during the reference period (human
trafficking or not). Differences emerged by gender, where a larger proportion
of men than women had a prior contact and a re-contact with police.
Chart 3 start
Data table for Chart 3
|Gender||Prior contact with police||Re-contact with police|
|TotalData table for chart 3 Note 1||75||66|
Chart 3 end
One in nine persons accused of human trafficking implicated in another
incident of human trafficking
those who had been accused of a crime prior to human trafficking, the vast majority
(91%) had been implicated in non-violent incidents.Note
Meanwhile, seven in ten (71%) had been accused in violent incidents and nearly
two-thirds (65%) were implicated in incidents related to the administration of
incidents these accused were implicated in were most often related to property
crimes (67%) or offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (58%).
In terms of violent incidents, accused were most commonly implicated in physical
assault-related offences (57%) or other violations involving violence or the
threat of violenceNote
(47%), while offences related to the deprivation of freedom (9%), sexual
offences (9%) and offences related to the sex trade (4%) were relatively less
common. Finally, of the incidents related to the administration of justice,
these individuals were most often accused of failure to comply (56%), breach of
probation (34%) and failure to appear (20%) prior to being implicated in human
their initial human trafficking contact with police, around one in nine (11%)
had been accused of human trafficking again during the reference period, and
this was similar among men and women (11% versus 10%).
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data is often presented as a simple count of criminal incidents and the
associated accused persons, which does not provide insight into the volume of
crime committed by the same person (Brennan and
Matarazzo 2016). Record linkages, such as the one completed for this
article, allow for an analysis of multiple contacts with police among unique
accused persons to determine patterns of offending behaviour.Note
those accused of human trafficking between 2009 and 2020, re-contact with
police—that is, subsequent contacts with police after being accused of human
trafficking initially—was common. Among those accused of human trafficking
during the reference period, more than half (56%) were chronic
offenders—meaning they had been accused in six or more criminal incidents
(human trafficking or not) between 2009 and 2020
(Text box 4 chart). Chronic offending was more common among men (61%)
than women (36%).
Text box Chart start
Data table for Text box table chart
Text box Chart end
nearly one in three (31%) persons accused of human trafficking were repeat
offenders—having been accused of two to five criminal incidents during the
reference period. Unlike chronic offending, repeat offending was more common
among women (42%) than men (29%).
offending was relatively less common. About one in eight (13%) persons accused
of human trafficking had been accused of that single criminal incident between
2009 and 2020. A larger proportion of women (22%) than men (10%) were one-time
End of text box 4
Just over six in ten persons accused of human trafficking have co-accused
accused of human trafficking often acted with others in the human trafficking
incident. Overall, more than six in ten (63%) accused persons were implicated
in human trafficking incidents that involved multiple perpetrators.Note
Meanwhile, four in ten (41%) accused persons had been implicated individually.Note
These findings align with an analysis of court cases undertaken by the UNODC (2021a), where three-quarters (74%) of the
human trafficking incidents examined involved two or more traffickers. Of note,
six in ten (61%) multi-trafficker incidents were related to organized crime,
either within a business enterprise or a governance structure. Such incidents
involved more victims, who were trafficked for a longer duration, and with more
force than human trafficking incidents involving a lone trafficker (UNODC 2021a).
were more common for women who were accused in human trafficking incidents. The
large majority (86%) of women were accused alongside others, while fewer than
one in five women (16%) had been accused on their own. This finding supports
previous research noting that women traffickers often offend alongside their
intimate partners (Broad 2015). On
the other hand, compared to women, a smaller proportion of men were accused of
human trafficking with others, and a greater proportion were accused on their
own (57% and 47%, respectively).
Charges for human trafficking more common among those with prior police
mentioned previously, prior charges among persons accused of human trafficking
were common: three-quarters (75%) of those accused had prior contact with
police, before the initial human trafficking incident. Of those with prior
contact, more than nine in ten (93%) had charges laid or recommended against
them in non-human trafficking incidents. Prior charges were more common among men
(95%) than women (84%) who were accused of human trafficking.
somewhat more common for accused persons to be charged in their initial
incident of human trafficking when they had previously been accused of a crime.
Among those who had prior contact with police before being implicated in human
trafficking, the vast majority (93%) had charges laid or recommended for their
initial human trafficking incident. This was consistent for men and women (both
93%). Among those with no prior contact with police, the large majority (85%)
were charged for their initial human trafficking incident. This was more common
among women (89%) than men (83%) who were accused of this crime.
Section 3: Human trafficking in adult criminal court
police-reported data, the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) provides
official data on human trafficking cases, as reported by the Canadian adult
criminal and youth courts. Beyond the initial charge laid, the ICCS provides
information on court processing times, charge and case decisions, and sentencing
outcomes. As such, this section details information on the adjudication of
human trafficking cases in adult criminal court involving Criminal Code
offences in Canada, completed between 2009/2010 and 2019/2020 (for information
about youth court, see Text box 5).Note
Of note, police-reported data and court data will not align perfectly given
that some police-reported incidents of human trafficking are processed by way of
other charges at the criminal court stage following Crown input.Note
In addition, the time periods for police-reported incidents and court cases may
differ as court cases are only counted in the ICCS database once all the
charges in the case are complete or deemed complete.
The number of human trafficking cases has increased, but not as much as the
number of charges
and 2019/2020, 834 cases involving 2,572 human trafficking chargesNote
were completed in adult criminal courts in Canada.Note
Over this period, the number of human trafficking charges and cases have
generally increased year-over-year, peaking in 2017/2018 before tapering off
and increasing again in 2019/2020 (Chart 4). More specifically, in
2009/2010, there were 13 cases completed that involved at least one human
trafficking charge, totalling 24 charges of human trafficking. In 2019/2020, 128
human trafficking cases and 396 charges were completed, approximately 10 times
as many cases and almost 17 times as many charges compared with 2009/2010. Of
interest, the number of human trafficking charges per case increased from an average
of two charges per case to three during this time.
Chart 4 start
Data table for Chart 4
|Year||Charges of human trafficking||Cases with at least one human trafficking charge|
Chart 4 end
Human trafficking cases average four times more charges and take twice as long
to complete as other violent cases
2009/2010 and 2019/2020, completed adult criminal court cases that included at
least one charge of human trafficking had an average of 17 charges (human
trafficking or otherwise) per case. By comparison, over the same period, cases involving
at least one violent offence averaged four charges per case overall.Note
Of the 819 multi-charge cases involving human trafficking, three-quarters (76%)
also included a sex trade offence, 31% included a charge of kidnapping or
forcible confinement and 28% included a sex offence.Note
Multi-charge cases are more complex and,
generally speaking, take longer to complete than single-charge cases. This was
seen with human trafficking cases, which took almost twice as long to complete
than other violent adult criminal court cases. Between 2009/2010 and 2019/2020,
the median amount of time it took to complete an adult criminal court case
involving at least one violent charge was 176 days. In contrast, it took a
median of 373 days to complete a case involving at least one human trafficking
Majority of completed human trafficking cases are stayed, withdrawn,
dismissed or discharged
2009/2010 to 2019/2020, completed adult criminal court cases involving at least
one human trafficking charge resulted in a variety of different decision types.
For eight in ten (81%) of these cases, the most serious decision rendered on a
human trafficking charge was either a stay, a withdrawal, a dismissal or a
discharge (Chart 5).Note
In comparison, 12% of human trafficking cases resulted in a decision of guilty,Note while 5% resulted in an acquittal and 1% resulted in another decision type,
such as being found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible. A
guilty finding was also less common for completed cases involving at least one sex
trade charge (33% of such cases resulted in a guilty decision), as well as
those involving violent offence charges (48% of such cases).
Chart 5 start
Data table for Chart 5
|Type of decision||Cases with at least one charge of human trafficking||Cases with at least one charge related to the sex trade||Cases with at least one violent offence chargeData table for chart 5 Note 1|
|Stayed, withdrawn, dismissed or discharged||81||64||44|
|OtherData table for chart 5 Note 2||1||1||2|
Chart 5 end
may be withdrawn, dismissed or discharged for numerous reasons. Some research
has found that with the implementation of new or amended legislation, prosecutors
must navigate an uncertain legal environment, often while lacking case law
guidance, and may encounter misunderstanding, biases, or ignorance about human
trafficking when interacting with judges and juries (Farrell et al. 2016; Farrell
et al. 2014). In addition, human trafficking victims may cooperate initially,
but then not consent to subsequent interviews, recant original testimony or
disappear before the trial commences thereby increasing the likelihood of
prosecutors’ withdrawing or staying charges (Farrell
et al. 2019; Farrell et al. 2016;
Farrell et al. 2014; Farrell et al. 2010).Note
Within an uncertain legal environment and without victim testimony or
corroborating evidence, the likelihood of a successful prosecution decreases. Further,
charges may be stayed or withdrawn as part of the plea bargaining process in
which the accused agrees to participate in diversion or alternative measures,
for example, in exchange for having charges stayed or withdrawn (Public Prosecution Service of Canada 2017).
information discussed here represents the most serious sentence in the case for
the selected offence type that resulted in a guilty decision.Note
cases involving at least one human trafficking charge resulted in a finding of
guilt, the most common sentencing outcome was custody (86%). In addition, 13%
of these guilty cases resulted in a sentence of probation and 1% received another
type of sentence such as an absolute or conditional discharge, or a community
service order. In
contrast, among violent cases where a guilty decision was in relation to the
violent offence, 48% received a probation order, while 38% received a custody
order. Remaining sentences included conditional sentences (5%), fines (3%) or
another type of sentence (6%).
Start of text box 5
2009/2010 and 2019/2020, 6% of completed human trafficking cases involved a
youth accused—that is, a person between the ages of 12 and 17. During this
period, there were 53 cases involving at least one charge of human trafficking
completed in youth courts in Canada, with a total of 107 charges.
one of the human trafficking cases processed in youth court involved multiple
the 52 multi-charge cases, 71% included a sex trade offence, 35% included a sexual
offence and 35% included a charge of kidnapping or forcible confinement.Note
where the most serious sentence was associated with a finding of guilt for the human
trafficking charge, 42% resulted in a sentence of custody and supervision, 17%
deferred custody and supervision,Note
33% probation and 8% involved another type of sentence.
End of text box 5
2010 and 2020, 2,977 incidents of human trafficking have been reported by police
services in Canada; at least three in ten (30%) of which involved an
international border crossing. The number of incidents increased over time
before declining in 2018, peaking in 2019, and declining once again in 2020. The
highest provincial rates of police-reported human trafficking in 2020 were
documented in Nova Scotia and Ontario, a finding that has generally remained
consistent over time.
human trafficking in Canada affected women and girls disproportionately, and
they represented the vast majority of detected victims. The large majority of
accused persons were men and boys, and most victims knew their trafficker.
under half of all police-reported human trafficking incidents have been cleared
either by charge (44%) or by another means (4%). An accused person has not been
identified by police in the remaining incidents.
Between 2009 and 2020, there were 1,793
unique persons accused of police-reported human trafficking, including Criminal
Code and Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act violations; about eight in ten of whom were male. The large majority (87%) of accused were identified by
police in multiple criminal incidents—both related and unrelated to human
to a data linkage for 2009 to 2020, most accused had been in contact with
police either before (75%) or after (66%) being accused of a human trafficking
offence. Among prior contacts, accused were most often implicated in property
crimes (67%), offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (58%),
physical assault-related offences (57%) and the administration of justice
offence failure to comply (56%). Following their initial human trafficking
contact with police, around one in nine individuals had been accused of human
trafficking again during the reference period.
criminal courts in Canada, there were 834 human trafficking cases completed
between 2009/2010 and 2019/2020. As the most serious decision in adult criminal
court, a finding of guilt was less common for cases involving human trafficking
charges (12%) than for those involving sex trade charges (33%) or violent
charges (48%). Human trafficking cases took twice as long to process through adult
criminal courts than violent offence cases (a median of 373 days versus 176
Detailed data tables
Table 1 Police-reported incidents of human trafficking, by statute and province or territory, 2010 to 2020
Table 2 Police-reported incidents of human trafficking, by statute and census metropolitan area, 2010 to 2020
Uniform Crime Reporting Survey
Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey collects detailed information on criminal
incidents that have come to the attention of police services in Canada.
Information includes characteristics of victims, accused persons and incidents.
In 2020, data from police services covered 99% of the population of Canada. The
count for a particular year represents incidents reported during that year,
regardless of when the incident actually occurred.
incident can involve multiple offences. In order to ensure comparability, aggregate
counts are presented based on the most serious offence in the incident as
determined by a standard classification rule used by all police services. For
human trafficking, Criminal Code offences reflect the most serious
violation against the victim and Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
offences reflect the most serious violation in the incident. Where further
detail is provided—such as characteristics of incidents, victims and accused persons—microdata
from the Incident-based UCR are used, for which police services can report up
to four violations for each incident. As such, the human trafficking-related
offence may or may not be the most serious violation reported by police for the
that small counts of victims identified as “gender diverse” may exist, the UCR
data available to the public has been recoded to assign these counts to either
“female” or “male” in order to ensure the protection of confidentiality and
privacy. Victims and accused persons identified as gender diverse have been
assigned to either female or male based on the regional distribution of
victims’ and accused persons’ gender.
Human trafficking record linkage
to explore prior contacts and repeated contacts (i.e., re-contacts) with police
among those accused of human trafficking, a deterministic record linkage was
completed. The linkage is based on police-reported data on human trafficking
accused persons and incidents between 2009 and 2020, from the Uniform Crime
Reporting Survey, Trend Database. Certain types of crime, like human
trafficking, may occur over a period of time, sometimes years. The linkage data
reflect the report date of an incident (i.e., when it came to the attention of
police); therefore, a small number of human trafficking incidents that occurred
prior to 2009 but were reported during the 2009 to 2020 reference period are
included in the linkage.
record linkage paired in-scope police-reported incidents with in-scope police-reported
accused persons. All accused persons (i.e., not companies) were considered
in-scope if they linked to a police-reported incident during the reference
period. From there, those who were accused of human trafficking—either under
the Criminal Code or the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—were
linked back to all police-reported incidents based on province or territory,
Soundex, date of birth and gender.
the record linkage identified 1,793 unique persons accused of police-reported
human trafficking between 2009 and 2020, and they linked to 18,312 criminal
incidents (both related and unrelated to human trafficking). The final linkage
rate of accused persons, after removing duplicate records and a manual review
of potentially false links, was 100%.
Integrated Criminal Court Survey
Integrated Criminal Court Survey collects statistical information on adult and
youth court cases involving Criminal Code and other federal statute
adult courts have reported to the adult component of the survey since the 2005/2006
fiscal year, with the exception of superior courts in Ontario, Manitoba and
Saskatchewan, as well as municipal courts in Quebec. These data were not
available for extraction from the provinces’ electronic reporting systems and
therefore, were not reported to the survey. Superior court data for Prince
Edward Island was included as of 2018/2019.
primary unit of analysis is a case. A case is defined as one or more charges
against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the
same time and received a final decision. A case combines all charges against
the same person having one or more key overlapping dates (date of offence, date
of initiation, date of first appearance, date of decision or date of
sentencing) into a single case.
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