Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling


Each year, hundreds of thousands of migrants are moved illegally by highly organized international smuggling and trafficking groups, often in dangerous or inhumane conditions. This phenomenon has been growing in recent years, but Canada, alongside the international community, is taking decisive action to halt these serious criminal activities.

Difference between Migrant Smuggling and Human Trafficking

Human smuggling is a business transaction between two willing parties involving movement across borders, usually by illegal means. It occurs with the consent of a person(s), and the transaction usually ends upon arrival. Human trafficking is a violation of basic human rights which can occur across and within borders. It starts when one party deprives another party of the freedom of choice by using threats, force, coercion, deception of fraud for the purpose of exploitation (i.e., putting another party into slavery-like conditions). Despite these differences, smuggled persons may become victims of human trafficking at any point in the smuggling process which makes initial consent irrelevant for prosecution. These victims can be found in the sex trade industry, domestic servitude, agricultural work, massage parlours, child labour, etc.

Canadian Initiatives

Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons

A complex and multi-faceted problem such as human trafficking requires a multi-sectoral response. An Interdepartmental Working Group (IWGTIP) serves as the focal point for information exchange between federal departments and agencies and coordinates federal responses to anti-trafficking in persons efforts. The Working Group is currently led by Public Safety, with representatives from key government departments and agencies.

An example of IWGTIP work includes a multilingual (14 languages) anti-trafficking pamphlet to warn potential trafficking victims of the dangers of human traffickers and to inform them of Canadian laws. It was issued through Canadian missions abroad, and to non-governmental organizations with access to potential trafficking victims abroad.

International Initiatives

The role of transnational organized crime in the trafficking of people and the smuggling of migrants is growing. As smuggling and trafficking-related activities take place in numerous countries, governments cannot successfully combat these offences in isolation. In addition, many countries lack specific provisions to deal adequately with these issues. For this reason, the international community has begun a concerted effort to thwart international criminal networks. Canada ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC) on May 13, 2002, which officially entered into force on September 29, 2003. The Convention extends tools for co-operation against organized crime to a global level, supporting international information sharing and law enforcement co-operation.

Canada also ratified two supplementary protocols to the UNCTOC:

  • The Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air
  • The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

Both protocols offer improved legal and judicial tools to prevent and combat smuggling and trafficking, enhance information sharing and promote co-operation among States in order to achieve these objectives. Of particular importance, the Trafficking Protocol expands the scope of protection and support to victims and witnesses. Canada commanded a leading role in the development of these agreements and is actively encouraging other States to ratify and implement them quickly.

Guided by international guidelines, Canada takes a multi-pronged response to combating human trafficking, including: prevention of trafficking, protection of victims and prosecution of offenders.

Canada exercises leadership in combating trafficking in persons internationally, including by sponsoring projects to prevent and raise awareness of the risks of human trafficking in regions such as Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. Canada also participates in a variety of fora where we share best practices and strategies to combat human trafficking, including the UN, the Organization for American States, G7, the Regional Conference on Migration, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Bali Process.


Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) came into force on November 25, 2005. Bill C-49 creates three new additional indictable offences specifically to address human trafficking and which can be used by law enforcement to address this crime.

Many Criminal Code offences also apply to trafficking in persons. These include kidnapping, extortion, forcible confinement, conspiracy, and controlling or living off the avails of prostitution, and organized crime offences.

In addition to the Criminal Code, there is a specific offence against human trafficking in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). The trafficking offence (s. 118) holds severe penalties: fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to life.

The Department of Justice

The Department of Justice Canada operates a Website on Trafficking in Persons with the IWGTIP. The website details definitions of trafficking, domestic and international efforts to combat trafficking and help victims, resources and links to partners involved in similar efforts.



International sites


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