The Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 17,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Canada, a prevalence of 0.5 victims for every thousand people in the country.
The Canadian government publishes statistics on human trafficking convictions and identified cases. The Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC) reported that as of November 2017, they had identified 455 cases of human trafficking since 2005. Of these 455 cases, 433 cases were domestic trafficking cases where Canadian or foreign citizens were exploited within Canada, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The remaining 22 cases were international trafficking cases where victims were trafficked across international borders, predominantly for the purpose of forced labour. So far, 118 cases have resulted in human trafficking specific and/or related convictions, but 296 cases remain before the court (involving about 506 accused perpetrators and 420 victims).1 These figures, of course, do not consider the unknown number of victims that are not reported.
In Canada, forced labour exploitation affects migrant workers, particularly those migrating to Canada under the ‘low-skilled’ temporary visa streams of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), including the low-wage and primary agricultural streams,2 the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), and the Live-In Caregiver program (LCP).3 Although the Canadian government ceased accepting any new applications for the LCP from 30 November 2014, there are still many migrants working as caregivers who entered Canada under the former LCP stream. In addition, since the abolition of the LCP, migrants looking to work as caregivers in Canada can still do so by applying for a regular work permit.4
Workers employed under these streams may work in restaurants, hotels or other hospitality services, agriculture, food preparation, construction, manufacturing, or domestic work.5 Migrant workers, particularly those in low-skilled and caregiving positions, reportedly experience a wide range of abuse including verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Specific examples include working without pay, performing tasks outside the scope of the employment contract, not receiving vacation or overtime pay, working extremely long hours, deduction of “fees” for food or accommodation from pay cheques, and particularly for women, sexual violence. In 2017, foreign workers who claim they paid thousands of dollars to obtain non-existent jobs at Mac’s convenience stores had their claims certified as a class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.6 The four workers named in the suit allege they paid up to US$8,500 each in illegal fees to Surrey-based immigration consultant firms to obtain jobs as temporary foreign workers in Western Canada, but upon arrival in Canada discovered there was no job awaiting them.7
The SAWP was designed in the 1960s to fill Canada’s labour shortage for seasonal agricultural labour and allows Canadian farm businesses to hire workers from Mexico and several Caribbean countries on temporary visas during harvesting season.8 In 2015, over 40,000 migrant workers were employed in Canada through the SAWP.9 In 2016, the death of a SAWP migrant farm worker from Jamaica caused public outcry, revealing that many SAWP migrant workers are working under exploitative conditions and are often not appropriately treated following injury.10 A 2014 study reports that during 2001 and 2011, 787 repatriations occurred among 170,315 migrant farm workers arriving in Ontario. The most common reason for being sent back to their countries of origin were medical or surgical reasons (41.3 percent) or external injuries, defined as trauma and including poisoning (25.5 percent). The study also found the workers were a "unique and vulnerable occupational group."11
Migrant workers who previously entered Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This is particularly due to one of the previous requirements that foreign caregivers had to live in the home of their employers. The results of a survey of 33 Filipino live-in care workers between 2012 and 2014 found evidence of withholding immigration documents and threat of deportation (reported by six workers), physical violence (five workers), accusations (18), insults (15), psychological, moral and sexual harassment (13), and different types of threats (15), such as threat of being reported to the immigration authorities. Two-thirds of the interviewed workers also reported that they were recruited through an employment agency which charged high fees for organising their employment and documentation. As these fees did not include the worker’s travel and setup fees, many of the workers reported having to borrow large sums from banks or family members in the Philippines to be able to migrate to Canada.12 Due to persistent allegations of exploitation of live-in caregivers, the program was overhauled in 2014, resulting in the removal of the live-in requirement, in addition to the announcement that the government would no longer accept applications that were received on or after 30 November 2014.13 However, allegations of exploitation continue among those already employed through the LCP.14
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
Trafficking within Canada for the purpose of sexual exploitation, primarily involving Canadian citizens as victims, is reported to be the most common form of modern slavery detected by authorities.15 In fact, 93 percent of identified sex trafficking victims are Canadian citizens, not foreign citizens.16 It must be emphasised that these figures do not necessarily reflect the small numbers of foreign nationals being subject to exploitation in Canada, but rather, they are a reflection of the numerous reasons foreign victims do not report to authorities, such as being tied to their employer through their visa while trying to get permanent residence, or fear of deportation.17 This is in addition to the many reasons victims in general do not come forward, such as threats or a dependent relationship with their exploiters, among others. Therefore, true estimates are difficult to attain. The majority of forced sexual exploitation cases in Canada are reported in the densely populated Greater Toronto Area.18 In 2015, Peel Regional Police, which services the greater Toronto area, brought 244 charges related to sex trafficking and in the first half of 2016 alone they brought 149 charges.19 In 2016, a Calgary woman was sentenced to eight years of prison for trafficking two young women and forcing them into sex work.20 In April 2018, a 16-year-old boy was charged with sex trafficking of a girl in Edmonton. He allegedly lured the girl with gifts, held her against her will, and forced her into the sex trade.21
According to a report by the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) released in 2013, 30 agencies surveyed in Ontario and Quebec reported 219 forced marriage cases between 2010 and 2012. Of those affected by forced marriage, 92 per cent were female, six per cent male, just over one percent were transgender, and less than one percent were unknown.22 The report notes this number may however be skewed due to a lack of outreach to male clients. Of those affected, 35 percent were under the age of 18, 31 percent were aged 19 to 24, and 25 percent were aged 25 to 34, with the remaining nine percent aged 35 years and older. These findings indicate that the majority of identified forced marriage victims are of a very young age.23 The report also revealed that most victims were born overseas, coming from over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America, while 22 victims were Canadian citizens. Forty-one percent of forced marriage clients were taken out of the country (either taken out of the country they lived in and brought to Canada or taken out of Canada) to be married.24 Fifty percent of individuals who came to see service providers were reportedly not aware of their rights with respect to forced marriage.25
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While modern slavery clearly occurs within Canada, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that Canada, like many other countries globally, will also be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policy-makers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 below highlights the top five products (according to US$ value, per annum) imported by Canada which are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery.26
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to Canada
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of $US)
|Laptops, computers, and mobile phones|
Apparel and clothing accessories
|Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam|
|China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
Brazil, Dominican Republic
Canada imports more than US$7.6 billion of laptops, computers, and mobile phones from China and Malaysia – the industries of both of these countries are considered at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods. The second highest value import which is suspected to be produced under conditions of modern slavery is apparel (US$4.7 billion). Canada imports nearly US$ 1.6 billion worth of gold annually from Peru. Research conducted in 2012 and 2013 found that workers in the illegal gold mining industry in Peru find themselves trapped in debt-bondage like situations where they have to pay off excessive debts to recruiters and are threatened when they attempt to leave the mines.27 Fish is another product of significant import value that may be at risk of modern slavery. Canada imports over US$390 million worth of fish from countries suspected of having modern slavery in their fishing industries. Sugarcane is one of the largest agricultural commodities in the world.28 Canada receives 63 percent of its overall sugarcane imports from Brazil (US$ 243.3 million) whose sugarcane industry is considered at risk of using modern slavery.29 Brazil was also the top producer of sugar from sugarcane in 2015 and dominates world trade, accounting for 40 percent of global exports of sugar.30
According to data on identified cases, modern slavery takes place largely for the purpose of forced sexual exploitation in Canada; women represent the majority of identified victims.31 The majority of sex trafficking victims are reportedly Canadian-born teenage girls, some as young as 13, who are recruited in various ways, including at school, through social media, and at shopping malls. Techniques used by traffickers include building dependence by buying gifts and posing as boyfriends.32 Younger male members of street gangs simulate affection as a tool to recruit young women.33 The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) also identify young people and individuals already working in sex industries to be most vulnerable to modern slavery.34
Marginalised and disadvantaged communities are reportedly more vulnerable to forced sexual exploitation, including women from Indigenous communities, young women and girls, migrants, and children in protection services.35 According to a 2014 survey of 266 Canadian front-line response organisations conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 51 percent of trafficked girls had been in the child welfare system and 51 percent of trafficked women and girls were Indigenous. Children in care are at increased risk of being targeted by traffickers due to prior neglect and limited oversight in the child welfare system, which may also result in children running away from care.36 Indigenous women and girls are particularly vulnerable due to a range of factors, including family violence, childhood abuse, poverty, homelessness, lack of education, and substance addictions, combined with the remote living conditions of many Indigenous communities.37 The impact of colonisation and intergenerational trauma, such as racial discrimination, oppression, and sexual violence, also plays a role in the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls.38
In the TFWP, migrants with valid work permits under the ‘low-skilled’ streams are most vulnerable to conditions amounting to forced labour, including those under the low-wage and the primary agricultural streams.39 A lack of monitoring and enforcement under the TFWP has also made it easier for illegal practices to take place, such as charging migrants excessive recruitment fees that result in substantial debt and indentured labour.40 These workers are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking as a result of several conditions of the TFWP, including barriers to attaining permanent status, and employer-specific work permits that tie immigration status to a single employer, causing migrant workers to risk deportation if they leave their job.41 Migrant workers may be threatened with deportation, forced to live in sub-standard conditions, or forced to work in dangerous conditions without receiving any workplace health and safety information or training.42
Migrant farm workers entering Canada through the SAWP are particularly vulnerable to exploitation as they are dependent on their employers for accommodation, food, and employment, and often work and live in isolated rural areas.43 It is also reported that temporary foreign workers often face language barriers that means they may sign work contracts they do not understand and are charged illegal recruitment fees in their home countries, leaving them under pressure of paying off significant debt.44 Every year thousands of seasonal workers from Jamaica, Mexico, and other Caribbean countries come to work in rural Canadian communities under the SAWP and the TFWP.45 Their precarious visa status renders migrant workers vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.46 Migrant workers who become ill or injured in Canada may have their work permit confiscated due to their inability to work and may consequently be sent home without access to adequate health care.47 SAWP workers who become injured at work face repatriation and denial of medical treatment. Provincial health insurance is often denied as such insurance relies on a valid work permit.48 There have also been reported cases of female migrant workers hiding their pregnancy for fear of losing their employment status and being deported.49
Although care workers on the LCP were granted the right to live outside their employer’s home as part of the changes to the LCP program in 2014, workers under the program may still be vulnerable to exploitation. In addition to losing their place of living, caregivers who would decide to move out of their employer’s home are required to obtain a new Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and work permit,50 therefore making it difficult to change employers in practice.51 Additionally, the changes also resulted in live-out caregivers no longer being considered part of the LCP which meant they were no longer eligible to apply for permanent residence under the LCP.52
Response to modern slavery
The Canadian government has criminalised human trafficking under section 279.01 and human trafficking of persons under the age of 18 years under section 279.011 of the criminal code. Additionally, section 279.02 criminalises receiving material benefits for the purpose of committing or facilitating trafficking and section 279.03 makes it a criminal offence to withhold or destroy a person’s identity documents for the purpose of trafficking.53 Forced labour and modern slavery are not criminalised in Canada’s penal code as distinct offences. However, the Canadian government pledged during the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour to sign the ILO Forced Labour Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 as soon as possible.54 Forced marriage is a criminal offence since 2015 according to section 293.1 of the criminal code.55
Victims of modern slavery are assisted through support services funded through the Justice Canada Victims Fund.56 However, dedicated funding for victim assistance reportedly varies across different provinces and territories.57 The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issues short-term Temporary Residents Permits (TRPs) (up to 180 days) to suspected victims of trafficking and longer-term TRPS (valid up to three years) to identified victims of trafficking to enable them to legally stay in Canada and receive health care and a work permit.58 In 2016, the government issued 67 TRPs, of which 26 were first-time permits and 41 were re-issues to victims who had previously received a permit.59
The Canadian government has a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (NAP), which expired on 31 March 2016; however, all budgets have been maintained and the responsible federal departments are continuing their work.60 The Minister of Public Safety published a formal evaluation of the NAP in December 2017. The evaluation report emphasises the need for a NAP and recommends improving capacity to collect national data on trafficking and implementing a mechanism to connect victims with dedicated support services and facilitate reporting of human trafficking cases, among others. It also notes that the NAP has made a limited contribution to the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes due to a range of external factors, such as jurisdictional constraint and the difficulty of collecting sufficient evidence for the prosecution, which limits the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to conduct such investigations.61 A new NAP had not yet been published at the time of writing.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development (HUMA) recommended in its 2016 review of the TFWP that the government abolish the ‘employer-specific work permit’ that ties workers to a specific employer and introduce pathways to permanent residency for all temporary foreign workers.62 Though the government announced some reforms to the TFWP as part of the 2017 federal budget, it rejected the recommendation of ending work permits that are tied to employers, thus rendering temporary migrant workers at risk of exploitation.63 There are also still significant barriers for temporary foreign workers to obtain permanent residence at this stage.64
In 2016, Ontario introduced its first Director of the newly established Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office who will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of Ontario's Strategy to End Human Trafficking, working across ministries and in collaboration with the law enforcement, justice, social services, health, education, and child welfare sectors.65
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
Although the Canadian government has not yet introduced legislation to ensure government agencies take steps to eliminate modern slavery from their supply chains, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in 2016 that “Canada will undertake efforts to review its federal procurement guidelines and policies to determine if there are potential vulnerabilities to abuse by human traffickers.”66 In September 2017, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSCP) presented to the Committee of Experts of the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (MESICIC) in relation to updates of the current Code of Conduct for Procurement. The Code, used by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the government of Canada’s central purchasing agency, is being updated to align with the government’s social and sustainable procurement policy objectives. The new code could be used as a tool to help Canada meets its international commitments, such as ILO conventions and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and address concerns regarding child and forced labour, human trafficking, and unsafe employment practices.67 PSPC has reportedly begun the drafting process for a new Code based on recommendations and other feedback,68 however it is currently unclear how this is progressing.
In November 2017, PSPC also began seeking input from apparel suppliers to develop guidelines for the ethical procurement of apparel.69 As part of the request, suppliers selling apparel to the federal government will have to self-certify that their direct Canadian and foreign suppliers comply with local laws and international labour rights and human rights standards, such as forced labour and access to fair wages and safe working conditions. PSPC also announced it will meet with suppliers, industry associations and other stakeholders in the apparel industry to discuss current practices on ethical manufacturing and sourcing throughout their supply chains.70 The government of Canada, through PSPC, reportedly has active contracts for the procurement of apparel totalling more than Can$640 million (US$509 million71).72
Business supply chains
While Canada does not currently have federal legislation that requires large businesses to publicly report on steps taken to eliminate modern slavery within their business and supply chains, there is a growing impetus for such legislation in Canada.82 Canada also has an ongoing parliamentary inquiry on child labour and modern slavery that has discussed the question of supply chain transparency, among other issues.83
In a major step forward, the Canadian government announced on 17 January 2018 that it will create an independent Canadian Ombudsman for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). The CORE will be mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad and will have the power to independently investigate, report, recommend, and remediate, as well as to monitor implementation of the remedies it imposes. The position’s scope will be multi-sectoral, initially focusing on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors, but it is expected that it will be extended to other business sectors. The Canadian government also announced plans to establish an Advisory Board on Responsible Business Conduct to advise the government and the CORE on responsible business conduct abroad.84
At the time of writing, the ground-breaking case of Araya v Nevsun Resources is before the Canadian courts.85 In 2008, Nevsun, a Canadian resources company, contracted the Eritrean government to build the Bisha mine and infrastructure, which involved the recruitment of local Eritrean workers. In 2014, three Eritrean workers filed a lawsuit against the mining company in the Supreme Court of Canada. The plaintiffs allege that they were conscripted by the Eritrean government under their ‘National Service Program’ and forced to build the mine under conditions of modern slavery.86 Therefore, the plaintiffs claim that Nevsun Resources was complicit in and profited from crimes of modern slavery by using forced labour to build the Bisha Mine in Eritrea. Six further claims have been filed against Nevsun on behalf of 59 additional plaintiffs on the same basis. It is the first international trial against a corporation on grounds of modern slavery within its supply chains. Although the merits of the claim have not yet been heard, this case highlights an increasing global trend for foreign courts to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses.87
The government of Canada should:
- Sign and ratify the ILO Forced Labour Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930
- Criminalise forced labour as a distinct offence in the criminal code, in line with international definitions.
- Ensure more effective investigations and prosecutions of modern slavery crimes by removing any barriers that prevent federal law enforcement from collecting sufficient evidence, such as jurisdictional constraints.
Improve victim support
- Ensure there is dedicated and adequate funding for victim assistance available for all provinces and territories.
- Introduce a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to ensure that all victims of modern slavery are centrally registered by authorities and data is reported annually.
Strengthen coordination and accountability
- All provinces should establish a coordinating body responsible for coordinating the implementation of the province’s strategy to combat human trafficking, similar to Ontario’s newly established Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office.
- Draft and adopt a new National Action Plan (NAP) immediately, with an adequate budget attached to it, taking into account the learnings from the evaluation of the previous NAP.
- Appoint an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner who will be responsible for overseeing a coordinated response to modern slavery across all sectors.
Address risk factors
- Abolish the ‘employer-specific work permit’ of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) immediately.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Follow through with reviewing government procurement guidelines and policies to introduce measures prohibiting that government agencies use businesses suspected of using forced labour or purchasing products that were made using forced labour.
- Introduce legislation that requires large businesses to report on steps taken to eliminate modern slavery within their business and supply chains.
- Introduce a free and publicly accessible repository to file all modern slavery statements to ensure businesses can be held accountable for non-compliance.