Human trafficking, often described as a modern-day form of slavery, involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring, detention or control of a person for the purpose of forced service.  It can take different forms, including domestic slavery, forced labour in various industries and sexual exploitation, which seems to be the main reason for human trafficking in Canada (House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, 2018).  Traffickers clearly violate the basic human rights of their victims and use various methods to maintain control over their victims, including physical violence, sexual assault, and emotional abuse.  RCMP identify that “these are some of the most damaged victims we work with.”

Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) with 93 percent of Canada’s trafficking victims coming from Canada.  Ninety eight percent of sex trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls.  Globally, it is estimated that human trafficking is amongst the most lucrative of criminal activities, rivaled only by drug and firearms trafficking and generating billions of dollars annually for sophisticated criminal organizations.  In Canada, $280,800 is the annual profit per female made by sex traffickers.  The United Nations has estimated that this illegal activity generates approximately $32 billion (US) annually for its perpetrators.  This crime is taking place in Canada, where human trafficking, for the purpose of sexual exploitation is, to date, the most common manifestation of this crime and where the vast majority of the victims are Canadian women and children (National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking).  The biggest risk factor is being a girl (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2014).  More than 75% of people working in the Canadian sex trade began working as a child (McIntyre).  Twenty five percent of human trafficking victims in Canada are children under the age of eighteen (Stats Can, 2018). 

In Canada, human trafficking often takes place in large urban centres, and also occurs in smaller cities and communities, largely for the purpose of sexual exploitation (National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking).  “They are the girls next door,” says Detective-Sgt. Nunzio Tramontozzi, who runs the Toronto Human Trafficking Unit.  “This could happen to my daughter.  They could be your daughter, they could be your niece, your granddaughter.  They come from all walks of life, not just marginalized areas – it doesn’t discriminate at all,” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).  Major risk factors include mental health issues, body image issues, learning disabilities, social isolation, child abuse experience and poverty.  New immigrants, LGBTQ youth, and most particularly, Aboriginal girls are over-represented among victims.  While Indigenous people make up 4% of Canada’s population, they make up more than 50% of sex trafficking victims (Globe and Mail “Missing and Murdered, the Trafficked”, 2016).  

The extent of human trafficking, either in Canada or internationally, is difficult to assess due to the hidden nature of these offences, the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward to law enforcement and the difficulty of identifying victims in practice.  Moreover, these cases often go unnoticed and unreported due to manipulation, fear, threats from traffickers, shame, language barriers or mistrust of authorities (National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking).