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Trafficking down, but stats don’t tell whole story: report

  • December 21, 2023

There were 528 incidents of human trafficking reported to police in 2022, a slight decrease from the 555 cases recorded in 2021, according to Statistics Canada. Taking this data at face value, this means the rate of human trafficking in 2022 decreased to 1.4 incidents per 100,000 people from 1.5 the year before. 

Of the 528 incidents, 411 are Criminal Code violations, and the remaining 117 are crimes under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). That’s 25 more than the 386 verified in 2021, but 52 fewer IRPA transgressions than the 169 identified a year ago.

Loanna Heidinger, the report’s author, concurs with the many experts who state these numbers do not reveal the accurate scale of trafficking in Canada.

“Despite legislation prohibiting all forms of human trafficking both within and outside Canadian borders, it is difficult to detect and measure due to its hidden nature,” stated Heidinger. “Victims of human trafficking are generally isolated and concealed from the public, and many may experience barriers or be unwilling to report to authorities for various reasons, including a general distrust of authorities, feelings of shame, fear of consequences, language barriers or a lack of human rights knowledge.”

Anti-trafficking organizations such as the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline and the Ally Global Foundation both state that fewer than 10 per cent of human trafficking victims feel comfortable approaching the police.

Sofia Friesen, the Canadian programs manager for Ally Global out of Vancouver, told The Catholic Register that victims are coerced to conduct criminal acts at the behest of their trafficker.

“There is a fear that charges will be pressed against them as well, whether that is related to the distribution of drugs or recruiting others into trafficking,” said Friesen. She added that “overall, there has not been enough done to educate all law enforcement officers across Canada” about the manipulation and psychological scarring inflicted on victims. Friesen thinks more should be done to help officers understand “just how harmful a process it can be to disclose a story like that and to not have it received in the most trauma-informed way.”

Encouragingly, more survivors and people with knowledge about trafficking in their community are increasingly turning toward the national hotline for support. According to The Centre to End Human Trafficking, the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline has received 12,706 calls since 2019 — a record high of 4,931 in 2022 — and successfully identified 1,500 cases of human trafficking and 2,170 victims and survivors.

Sixty-seven per cent of the calls to the hotline came from Ontario. Ontario and Nova Scotia have higher rates than the national average at 2.3 and 4.5 per 100,000, respectively. Heidinger wrote that “in 2022, Nova Scotia accounted for 8.7 per cent of human trafficking incidents and Ontario accounted for 67 per cent of incidents despite respectively representing 2.6 per cent and 39 per cent of the Canadian population that same year.”

Sex trafficking looms as the most prevalent form of trafficking in Canada, as 1,029 of the 1,500 cases identified through the hotline were incidents of sex trafficking. However, labour trafficking, also known as forced labour, also represents a severe threat, particularly for migrants.

“Migrant workers play an important role in the Canadian economy and help to address critical labour shortages in Canada,” wrote Heidinger. “However, the precarious immigration status of migrant workers may increase their vulnerability to exploitation. Labour trafficking recruiters may lure victims with the promise of high-paying jobs, legal documentation and an overall better life in Canada.”

This past March, York Regional Police (YRP) rescued 64 Mexican-born nationals who were being abused and exploited for manual labour at farms, factories and warehouses across the Greater Toronto Area and arrested five people.

“The victims lived in squalor and were compelled to work long hours for little pay, while their exploiters reaped the benefits of their labour and lived in luxury,” stated the YRP at the time.

(See The Register’s special report Breaking the Bondage: Ending human trafficking’s evil at 

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