Justice and Human Rights
Issue | Human smuggling and trafficking in persons are subjects of increasing concern to border officials and law enforcement agencies.
Synopsis | Trafficking in persons and human smuggling are distinct but overlapping problems that involve complex immigration and exploitation issues. Border and law enforcement officials are actively confronted with the realities of these growing phenomena on the ground, while parliamentarians strive to find legislative solutions.
Timing | Amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to trafficking in persons came into force in 2010. In addition, investigations are ongoing into refugee claims and allegations of smuggling concerning migrants who arrived by ship off the west coast of Canada in 2009 and 2010.
Human smuggling and trafficking in persons are some of the most controversial and challenging modern migration and human rights issues facing the Canadian government today, as demonstrated by intense debate over the issues during the 40th Parliament. Although human smuggling and trafficking in persons are often seen as synonymous, these related activities often involve quite distinct patterns of exploitation and victimization and differ with respect to geographical scope and legal framework.
Human smuggling involves a person who facilitates the illegal entry of a migrant into a country, usually for a fee. The term conjures images of migrants being smuggled across the Canada–United States border, or arriving off Canada’s shores by boat. However, human smuggling can also involve the production and sale of false identification or immigration documentation. It is thus an international phenomenon involving illegal migration, and is an issue of concern to border and federal law enforcement officials.
By contrast, trafficking in persons involves the recruitment, transportation and harbouring of a person for the purposes of forced service by means of deception, coercion or debt bondage. Although the image typically associated with trafficking is that of women and children brought into Canada and forced into the sex trade, victims of trafficking also include those exploited as farm, domestic or other labourers. Unlike smuggling, trafficking is not necessarily an international phenomenon: it can occur across provincial as well as national borders, and even between cities.
Of course, the activities of trafficking and smuggling overlap. For example, some illegal migrants pay a fee for their passage and are forced into service to repay their debt. Consenting migrant sex workers may be forced to operate in unexpectedly exploitative conditions. These points of overlap, where irregular migration begins to entail coercive and exploitative service, lead to a blurring of the lines between trafficking and smuggling.
|Sri Lankan migrants arriving on MV Sun Sea in 2010.|
|Image: Department of National Defence.|
Providing an accurate portrait of trafficking and smuggling in Canada is difficult. Both activities cover a wide range of scenarios, from organized criminal groups that operate transnational networks to small-scale operations that move a few people at a time, whether across national borders or within the country. International smugglers and traffickers often share ethnic ties with those they are moving, while those trafficked domestically are often recruited by acquaintances or through the Internet,1 or are duped into an exploitative situation or abducted outright. Others are deceived with seemingly legitimate employment contracts or enter into marriages abroad.
Reliable statistics on the scope of smuggling and trafficking are scarce. This is particularly the case with respect to trafficking, given its clandestine nature, the fact that borders do not necessarily need to be crossed, and discrepancies in the interpretation of what trafficking means. In 2005, the RCMP estimated that 800 people were trafficked into Canada each year; more recently, however, law enforcement officials have become reluctant to provide a figure on the extent of trafficking to and from Canada. UN agencies estimate that trafficking in persons generates annual global profits in the range of US$10 billion to US$31.6 billion.2
Although smuggling and trafficking are relatively recent concepts in domestic legislation, Canada’s history of dealing with irregular migration stretches back to the early 20th century. Today, Canada has been identified as a source, destination and transit country for smuggling and trafficking (often to the United States).3
Recent cases highlight the dilemmas facing border and law enforcement officials with respect to smuggling. In 2009 and 2010, two vessels arrived carrying 76 and 492 Sri Lankans claiming refugee status. One person died on the MV Sun Sea voyage, and there are concerns that the smugglers might have links to the Tamil Tigers. The federal response was multi-departmental, involving Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Health Canada.
Domestic laws on human smuggling and trafficking in persons flow from Canada’s international obligations under a number of UN conventions, including the protocols of 2000 on trafficking and smuggling that supplement the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act establishes strict penalties for smuggling and trafficking in sections 117 to 123 (section 117 is specific to smuggling, and section 118 to trafficking). From a criminal law perspective, sections 279.01 to 279.04 of the Criminal Code target domestic and international trafficking, with particular emphasis on the trafficking of minors. Victim protection is addressed in the Criminal Code with respect to witness protection and restitution, and through a Department of Citizenship and Immigration policy that enables the provision of temporary resident permits to trafficked persons.
© Library of Parliament 2011