Human trafficking at the border
Learn about human trafficking and how the CBSA fights it.
On this page
- What is human trafficking
- Possible linkage to human smuggling
- CBSA’s role in the fight against human trafficking
- The CBSA fights human trafficking through many activities
- Our contribution to the federal effort
What is human trafficking
Human trafficking, also referred to as trafficking in persons, involves recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing, harbouring, or exercising control, direction or influence over that person, for the purpose of exploitation, generally for sexual exploitation or forced labour and organ trafficking.
Vulnerable groups that may be at risk of being victims of trafficking include Indigenous women, youth and children, migrants, new immigrants, at-risk youth, runaways, and socially or economically disadvantaged people.
Human trafficking occurs domestically and internationally:
- Domestic trafficking refers to trafficking within a country's borders. It is important to note that victims do not need to be moved from one location to another to be “trafficked”
- International trafficking refers to when a trafficker transports the citizen of one country into another country for the purpose of exploitation
Possible linkage to human smuggling
Human smuggling involves a person illegally crossing over an international border. The person implicated chooses to be smuggled and has made an agreement with another person or group of people, usually in exchange for a sum of money and sometimes in dangerous conditions. The relationship between the person and the smuggler normally ends when the smuggled person arrives at their destination. In some cases, persons who are smuggled become victims of human trafficking when they arrive at their destination.
CBSA’s role in the fight against human trafficking
- Identifies instances of cross-border human trafficking
- Helps potential victims by referring them to appropriate government services
- Supports the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking offenders
While investigations and prosecution of human trafficking offences are under the mandate of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the CBSA plays an important role in identifying this crime along the travel continuum and through the investigation of other related offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The CBSA will become involved when the victim or perpetrator of human trafficking is a foreign national or permanent resident, or if the person is being transported across the border.
Identifying a potential victim of human trafficking
If human trafficking is suspected, the CBSA will seize goods and documents as needed, initiate an investigation and will notify law enforcement partners for further action.
Signs a person may be a victim of human trafficking
- Comes from a source area
- Is distrustful of authorities
- Shows signs of being controlled mentally or physically
- Shows fear or anxiety when observed or during interview
- Presents false documentation/withholds documentation
- Has fees/debts
- Has unrealistic employment offers
- Is unfamiliar with their environment/confined to living quarters
- Has little or no contact with family members or friends
- Is independent
- Has limited linguistic skills
Signs that a child may be a victim of human trafficking
- Has little or no access to parents or guardians
- Has little or no friends their age outside of school/work
- Is travelling alone
- Is travelling with people who are not relatives
- Has contact information for people who they are not related to
The CBSA fights human trafficking through many activities
- Conducting pre-arrival risk assessments of passengers coming to Canada to identify possible victims and traffickers before they arrive
- Sharing intelligence with international partners on trends and trafficking methods
- Conducting immigration security screening of adults who seek to enter Canada as temporary or permanent residents
- Conducting immigration security screening of refugee claimants
- Conducting investigations against permanent residents and foreign nationals believed to be engaged in organized crime activity, specifically in the context of transnational crime in human trafficking activities
- Participating in criminal investigations and joint investigations
Working with partners
- Referring suspected cases of human trafficking to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or local police for investigation and prosecution
- Referring potential victims of human trafficking to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada for an interview on immigration options, including consideration of a Temporary Resident Permit
Our contribution to the federal effort
The CBSA is one of 8 federal organizations involved in the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024 (National Strategy) with its pivotal role in managing Canada's borders and combatting cross-border crime, consistent with its mandate to provide integrated border services that support national security and public safety priorities. The National Strategy builds on the former National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (2012-2016) and provides a coordinated framework guided by 5 thematic pillars, whereby the Agency is involved in 2: Prosecution and Protection.
The Intelligence Policy and Support Division is the lead on the National Strategy. The division provides oversight, coordination and progress reports to CBSA management and Public Safety Canada on deliverables such as:
- the deployment of a new national reporting tool () for the consistent tracking of human trafficking activities and products developed by regions and HQ
- the staffing of new intelligence analysts () in various regions to provide location-specific expertise. They will use analytic techniques to assess data to develop actionable intelligence for the frontline personnel. This includes identifying information gaps and preparing human trafficking specific intelligence products at the tactical, operational and strategic levels, and
- business analysis and quality assurance by Immigration Enforcement (Investigations) on cases where officers believe an individual may be inadmissible to Canada on grounds relating to transnational organized crime, in particular human trafficking cases
- these are administrative investigations on admissibility to Canada.
CBSA has established a Dedicated Expert Group under the "Prosecution" pillar to coordinate, consult and develop strategies to combat human trafficking to improve the Agency’s ability to identify and intercept instances of human trafficking overseas, at the border and within Canada. The Agency is also undertaking a new activity under the "Protection" pillar to assess the impacts of human trafficking and other gender-based violence along the immigration enforcement continuum. This involves policy review and analysis of the legislative and regulatory framework to identify where victims may be at risk of inadvertent or further victimization in the immigration enforcement process.
The Government of Canada's trafficking legislation
The legislative authorities relating to human trafficking include, but are not limited to the following:
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Section 118)
(1) No person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force or coercion.
Definition of "organize"
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), "organize", with respect to persons, includes their recruitment or transportation and, after their entry into Canada, the receipt or harbouring of those persons.
Sections 120-123 describe penalties, aggravating factors and documents.
Section 37 provides for a finding of inadmissibility against a permanent resident or a foreign national on the grounds of organized criminality for engaging, in the context of transnational crime, in activities such as people smuggling, trafficking in persons or laundering of money or other proceeds of crime.
Protection of Passenger Information Regulations
Section 4 enables the identification of persons and the conduct of trend analysis or creation of risk indicators related to terrorism offence or a serious transnational
Criminal Code of Canada (Section 279.01-279.04)
(1) Every person who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
- (a) to imprisonment for life if they kidnap, commit an aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against, or cause death to, the victim during the commission of the offence;
- (b) to imprisonment for a term of not more than fourteen years in any other case.
(2) No consent to the activity that forms the subject-matter of a charge under subsection (1) is valid.
Section 279.011 (Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years) states:
(1) Every person who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person under the age of eighteen years, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person under the age of eighteen years, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
- (a) to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of six years if they kidnap, commit an aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against, or cause death to, the victim during the commission of the offence;
- (b) to imprisonment for a term of not more than fourteen years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of five years, in any other case.
(2) No consent to the activity that forms the subject-matter of a charge under subsection (1) is valid.
Section 279.02 (Material benefit) states:
Every person who receives a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it results from the commission of an offence under subsection 279.01(1) and 279.011(1), is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years. Every person who receives a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it results from the commission of an offence under subsection 279.01(1) and 279.011(1), is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years.
Section 279.03 (Withholding or destroying documents) states:
Every person who, for the purpose of committing or facilitating an offence under subsection 279.01(1) and 279.011(1), conceals, removes, withholds or destroys any travel document that belongs to another person or any document that establishes or purports to establish another person's identity or immigration status is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years, whether or not the document is of Canadian origin or is authentic.
Section 279.04 (Exploitation) states:
For the purposes of sections 279.01 to 279.03, a person exploits another person if they
- (a) 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;
- (b) cause them, by means of deception or the use or threat of force or of any other form of coercion, to have an organ or tissue removed.
It is also important to recognize that various laws of general application can apply to respond to trafficking including but not necessarily limited to kidnapping (subsection 279(1)), forcible confinement (subsection 279(2)), aggravated sexual assault (section 273), extortion (section 346) and the organized crime (sections 467.11-467.13) and prostitution-related offences (see in particular section 212).
The CBSA is responsible for investigating all offences committed under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with the exception of cases linked to national security, HT, and major organized crime which fall under the responsibility of the RCMP.
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