2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Canada

CANADA: Tier 1

The Government of Canada fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Canada remained on Tier 1. These efforts included increasing funding for victim services; amending the Customs Tariff to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor; and launching a five-year public awareness campaign informed by research on public awareness and attitudes on trafficking. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not provide comprehensive data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions during the reporting period or on victims provided with services nationwide. The government’s efforts to identify victims, provide protections to all victims—particularly forced labor victims—and investigate and prosecute forced labor crimes, remained inadequate. The range, quality, and timely delivery of trafficking-specific services varied nationwide, and service providers reported a shortage of victim services, including emergency shelters and longer-term housing.


Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including forced labor and child sex tourism, and impose adequately strong sentences on convicted traffickers. • Increase proactive identification of victims, particularly male victims and forced labor victims, through screening among vulnerable populations and proactive outreach and assistance to migrant workers. • Significantly increase trauma-informed specialized services and shelter available to all victims, including male victims and foreign national victims, in partnership with civil society and through ongoing dedicated funding from federal and provincial governments. • Increase nationwide trafficking data collection, including timely consolidation of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions and numbers of victims identified and assistance provided. • Increase coordination and communication among federal, provincial, and territorial actors and strengthen provincial interagency efforts. • Establish a survivor-led advocacy council to assist in policy development, and ensure members are duly compensated for their work. • Amend the criminal code and Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to include definitions of trafficking that are consistent with international law. • Increase training for government officials, particularly for prosecutors and judges, including on seeking and ordering restitution upon trafficking convictions. • Increase partnerships with the private sector, including financial institutions, to prevent trafficking. • Implement laws and policies to address trafficking in the federal supply chain.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Criminal code sections 279.01 and 279.011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of four to 14 years’ imprisonment for trafficking adults and five to 14 years’ imprisonment for trafficking children; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not establish the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime. Section 279.02 also criminalized receiving financial or any other material benefit from trafficking and prescribed a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and a mandatory minimum of two years’ to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. Section 279.03 criminalized withholding or destroying documents to facilitate trafficking and prescribed a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment in cases involving adult victims and a mandatory minimum of one year to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment in cases involving child victims. Section 286.1 criminalized purchasing commercial sex acts from an individual under 18 years of age and prescribed a minimum penalty of six months and a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act established a separate crime of “human smuggling and trafficking” to mean “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.” Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, this provision did not include exploitation as an essential element of the crime.

Government officials at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels investigated and prosecuted trafficking crimes, but the government did not report comprehensive law enforcement data at each of these levels. The federal government did not maintain a national database. It provided data from Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, which included provincial and municipal data but did not disaggregate between sex and labor trafficking. The UCR data is available each July for the previous calendar year, and in 2019, the government reported a total of 511 trafficking incidents investigated leading to 270 individuals charged with trafficking crimes; this compared with a total of 340 trafficking incidents investigated and 236 individuals charged in 2018. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) reported identifying and referring to law enforcement 45 suspected forced labor cases within the temporary foreign worker program between April 2020 and December 2020, compared with 32 forced labor investigations between April 2019 and October 2019. The government reported law enforcement officials investigated 573 trafficking cases in 2020. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which conducted administrative investigations of potential human trafficking cases among immigration and refugee cases, initiated 37 new large-scale investigations involving allegations of human trafficking in 2020, compared with 20 in 2019. Unlike previous years, the government did not report the number of suspected traffickers that authorities prosecuted in the most recent calendar year. Federal, provincial, and municipal authorities prosecuted and concluded cases against 185 suspected traffickers in 2019, compared with 197 suspects in 2018, and convicted 50 traffickers, compared with 51 traffickers convicted in 2018. Though the government did not report the number of individuals prosecuted or convicted in 2020, it reported that courts imposed sentences between seven years’ and eight years six months’ imprisonment for convicted traffickers in 2020. The government reported some traffickers may have been convicted under other sections of the criminal code. The government reported the majority of trafficking cases were prosecuted at the provincial level, though it did not provide complete data on provincial-level prosecutions and convictions. Some provinces and municipalities maintained specialized anti-trafficking law enforcement units. In July 2020, the Government of Nova Scotia announced the appointment of its first Crown attorney dedicated to prosecuting trafficking cases in the province. Most provincial courts suspended trials for several months following the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, and some closed for a second time beginning in November 2020. Many courts continued to operate at a decreased capacity and struggled to manage the backlog of cases.

Several government agencies continued collaboration with financial institutions, technology companies, and NGOs to monitor financial transactions for indicators of possible money laundering linked to human trafficking; through this collaboration, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) received thousands of suspicious transaction reports and provided 232 disclosures of actionable financial intelligence to police in support of investigations. NGOs noted a continued imbalance in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, with limited attention to and understanding of forced labor. Coordination challenges among federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal authorities limited the effectiveness of anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, particularly on cases that spanned multiple jurisdictions. The government’s lack of a coordinated data collection system made it difficult for authorities to collect reliable, timely, and consolidated data to assess efforts and respond to trends.

The Canadian Police College provided a human trafficking investigators course that trained 17 police—a limited number due to pandemic-related restrictions—on understanding the scope of trafficking crimes, fostering trust between law enforcement and victims, and overcoming challenges in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) provided an online introduction to human trafficking course completed by 638 law enforcement officials. The government’s training academy for new police recruits included trafficking awareness in its training curriculum. FINTRAC regularly presented during the human trafficking investigator courses at the provincial and federal levels to educate law enforcement officials on financial intelligence in human trafficking investigations. The RCMP updated its guidelines and procedures for investigating human trafficking cases in its operational manual. New border officials received training in human trafficking through their agency’s People at Risk course; in 2020, 124 officials completed this course, while 201 additional agency employees completed an online training on trafficking. The Department of National Defense and Canadian Armed Forces continued providing online trafficking awareness training for all new Canadian Defense Attaché personnel. The government reported police cooperated with foreign law enforcement officials on several open investigations during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.


The government increased protection efforts. The government did not report complete data on the number of victims identified. RCMP officers identified 80 sex trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 119 victims in 2019, and 89 victims in 2018. Of these, 78 were female, two were male, 63 were adults, 13 were children, and four were unspecified. In addition, ESDC identified 45 suspected forced labor victims among temporary foreign workers. The government provided several handbooks, guidelines, and other resources for front-line officials—including police, justice practitioners, and border officials—to enable them to proactively identify indicators of trafficking among the populations they served.

Provinces and territories were primarily responsible for the delivery of victim services. The government did not report complete data on victims receiving government-funded services. The federal government allocated 930,200 Canadian dollars ($729,570) to Justice Canada’s Victims Fund to support trafficking victims and groups at high risk of exploitation, compared with 1 million Canadian dollars ($784,310) in 2019. Through this fund, the government provided funding to organizations implementing 11 projects to improve services for trafficking victims and develop and deliver training for law enforcement officers and service providers in the provinces and territories. One project ended during the reporting period, and 10 remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government did not collect standardized data from these projects, but implementing organizations estimated providing services to approximately 220 victims and vulnerable individuals between April 2020 and December 2020 through government-funded projects. In December 2020, the government awarded an additional approximately 19 million Canadian dollars ($14.9 million) over four years to 63 organizations working to identify and protect trafficking victims—including through housing assistance, mental health services, and employment and livelihood development and support—and prevent victimization among vulnerable groups.

Each province or territory provided some services for victims, often in collaboration with NGOs, though the government did not collect comprehensive data on the amount of funding or number of victims served at the provincial and territorial level. Services varied widely across the country—with some based in the criminal justice process and some providing more comprehensive individual support—though victims could typically access emergency shelter, food, medical services, psychological services, safety planning, and legal services. Assistance was available for both Canadian and foreign victims, as well as male and female victims, but service providers reported they primarily served Canadian female victims. Several provincial governments funded or implemented trafficking-specific programming. The Government of Alberta continued funding a coalition, which included survivors, to provide services to victims and coordinate a regional response to trafficking; the Government of British Columbia maintained an office to develop and coordinate the region’s anti-trafficking strategy; and the Government of Quebec continued implementation of a strategy to prevent and combat sexual violence, including providing support for trafficking victims. In Manitoba, police and NGOs continued to assist victims through a collaborative response team. The Government of Ontario continued implementation of a five-year strategy to combat trafficking announced in March 2020, including 307 million Canadian dollars ($240.78 million) in new funding. In February 2020, the Government of Nova Scotia launched a provincial approach to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation, including new funding of 1.4 million Canadian dollars ($1.1 million) annually for five years; these funds were allocated to programs that included strengthening support for black and indigenous victims and re-opening a resource center for indigenous women who were vulnerable to exploitation. In July 2020, Nova Scotia opened a youth safe house with the capacity to provide specialized trafficking victim services and 24-hour support to two residents at a time for up to three months, as well as follow-up services after victims leave the shelter.

NGOs operated shelters for victims of violence nationwide, mostly women and their accompanying children; some shelters were government-funded, but only a few provided beds specifically for trafficking victims. Service providers reported there was an insufficient supply of emergency shelters, medium- to long-term housing, and specialized medical and psychological services to meet the needs of trafficking victims and that some available shelter options were not adequate for victims to receive appropriate, trauma-informed care. Through the Victims Fund, the government continued to provide an annual allocation of more than 3.3 million Canadian dollars ($2.59 million) to support multidisciplinary, child-friendly advocacy centers to enhance trauma-informed assistance to child victims of abuse, including human trafficking, during the criminal justice process. In addition, the government provided supplemental funding to assist child advocacy centers to adapt their services and meet increased demand during the pandemic.

The onset of the pandemic hurt the availability of services for victims. An NGO that maintained a national directory of trafficking victim service providers reported that in April and May 2020, 22 percent of non-governmental programs and services were suspended or not accepting new referrals and 71 percent operated in a modified capacity. The Government of Ontario implemented measures to facilitate sustained support for victims during the pandemic; it provided eligibility to trafficking victim service providers to receive emergency childcare, implemented a temporary pay increase for staff assisting trafficking victims in residential settings, provided personal protective equipment to anti-trafficking organizations, and increased funding to assist organizations in adapting operations and services during the pandemic. The federal government provided 100 million Canadian dollars ($78.43 million) in emergency funding for organizations providing shelter and other services to victims of gender-based violence—including 20 million Canadian dollars ($15.69 million) allocated to organizations assisting indigenous women and children—which likely benefited some trafficking victims.

Canadians who were victims of trafficking crimes that occurred outside Canada could be eligible to receive financial assistance for travel, psychological services, and other expenses through the Victims Fund, but the government did not report providing this assistance to any victims during the reporting period. The government provided alternatives to removal for foreign trafficking victims who faced danger or hardship in their home countries. Foreign trafficking victims could apply for a temporary resident permit (TRP) to remain in Canada under regularized immigration status, to receive access to healthcare, including psychological services, and to apply for a work permit. Officials issued short-term TRPs for up to 180 days or long-term TRPs for three years. Authorities did not require victims to participate in an investigation or prosecution to be eligible for a TRP, and victims could apply directly without a referral from law enforcement or service providers. The government reported authorities prioritized trafficking-related TRP applications, including throughout the pandemic. Between January 2020 and November 2020, the government issued 110 TRPs to foreign trafficking victims and their dependents; this compared with 228 TRPs issued to trafficking victims in 2019 and 40 issued in 2018. TRP holders could apply for fee-exempt work permits; the government reported providing permits to approximately 40 trafficking victims and their dependents between January 2020 and November 2020.

Canadian law provided various protections to victims and other witnesses participating in trials, many of which were mandatory for children and available to adults at a judge’s discretion. These protections included video testimony, the presence of a support person during testimony, a ban on publishing names of or releasing identifying information about witnesses, and closing courtrooms to the public. Authorities did not report how frequently courts afforded these protections to trafficking victims during trials. NGOs reported some victims were re-traumatized during court proceedings due to the lack of victim-centered methods. Traffickers could be ordered to pay restitution to victims under Canadian law, and the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario had laws allowing trafficking victims to seek civil redress. Some provinces had compensation or financial benefits programs for crime victims. The government did not report whether any victims received restitution, sought civil redress, or were awarded compensation through provincial programs in 2020. There were no reports authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, although the government did not have a formal law or policy prohibiting this practice.


The government maintained prevention efforts. Public Safety Canada (PSC) continued to lead the government’s federal interagency task force to combat trafficking, and it strengthened the task force’s governance structure by establishing an annual Assistant Deputy Ministers meeting, a Directors-General Steering Committee, and five working groups on key topics. Federal agencies continued coordination to implement the government’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024, which included 57.22 million Canadian dollars ($44.88 million) in funding over five years and 10.28 million Canadian dollars ($8.06 million) annually after 2024. PSC was expected to publish an annual progress report on Canada’s achievements under the National Strategy but did not publish the first annual report during the reporting period. The National Strategy called for the establishment of a survivor-led advisory committee, though this was not established during the year. The Government of Ontario continued to convene a roundtable to facilitate input from trafficking survivors to inform its approach. To facilitate coordination and collaboration among federal, provincial, and territorial governments, PSC chaired meetings of the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (FPT) Trafficking in Persons Working Group and Justice Canada led the FPT Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Working Group on Human Trafficking.

The government continued funding the Migrant Worker Support Center in British Columbia, a pilot program to strengthen protections for migrant workers through providing funding to NGOs and facilitating quarterly multi-stakeholder meetings to address worker protection issues. In April 2020, network-supported projects were refocused to respond to migrant workers’ immediate needs during the pandemic, and in July 2020, the government announced an additional 6 million Canadian dollars ($4.71 million) in emergency funding to support migrant workers during the pandemic. The government implemented an initiative allowing migrant workers in an abusive employment situation to apply for an open work permit, which would allow them to change employers without losing their status to work in Canada; however, the government did not provide statistics on the number of trafficking victims or vulnerable migrants that applied for or received open work permits. The government temporarily extended the program to agricultural workers from Trinidad and Tobago who were stranded in Canada during the pandemic. The government implemented a policy during the pandemic to allow additional time for foreign nationals to renew their temporary immigration status and to permit some work permit applicants to work legally while their applications were pending; these measures may have mitigated trafficking risks among some foreign nationals who would have lost their immigration status during the pandemic.

In March 2020, the Canadian parliament passed implementing legislation for a trade agreement that requires the parties to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor; the agreement entered into force in July 2020, and in the same month, Canada amended its Customs Tariff to include the forced labor prohibition. Trade analysts reported the implementation of these measures was slow as the government coordinated internally. Public Services and Procurement Canada maintained a team focused on ethical sourcing in federal procurement supply chains. Officials implemented an apparel sector initiative requiring suppliers to certify their products were free from forced labor, and the government added an ethical employment clause that included a forced labor prohibition to its contracts for personal protective equipment beginning in July 2020. Officials drafted revisions to Canada’s Code of Conduct for Procurement to include labor and human rights standards, including a prohibition on forced labor for all suppliers and launched a consultative process with suppliers, NGOs, and experts to validate and finalize these changes.

In February 2021, the government launched the first phase of a five-year national awareness campaign with digital advertising aiming to raise awareness of human trafficking, address common misperceptions of the crime, educate the public on warning signs, and provide information for reporting suspected cases; the government designed the campaign using results from a survey measuring public attitudes and awareness of trafficking. The government provided an NGO 25,000 Canadian dollars ($19,610) to implement an ongoing campaign raising awareness and providing support to potential victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in the context of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Quebec, although the Grand Prix was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The government allocated foreign assistance funds to anti-trafficking programming in other countries in the Americas and around the world; these projects included combatting trafficking within indigenous communities in Mexico, developing a permanent specialized training program for anti-trafficking officials in Honduras, and strengthening the capacity of criminal justice officials to prosecute cross-border trafficking crimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The government also funded programming to improve trafficking victim protection in Ukraine, to provide alternatives to irregular migration for youth in Central America, and to investigate violations of international law—including trafficking and enslavement—in Iraq and Syria. The government funded small-scale anti-trafficking projects tailored to local needs in Belarus, Bolivia, Iraq, Lebanon, Micronesia, Senegal, and Tajikistan.

The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens, including by distributing publications warning Canadians traveling abroad about penalties under Canadian law and directing personnel in its overseas diplomatic missions to report suspected cases to local law enforcement and INTERPOL. The government, however, did not collect data on child sex tourism investigations, prosecutions, or convictions. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts through public messaging and awareness-raising activities.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Canada, and traffickers exploit victims from Canada abroad. Women and children from indigenous communities, migrants, new immigrants, LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, at-risk youth, runaway youth, and youth in the child welfare system are at high risk for trafficking. Traffickers lure girls and young women, including some who are not socially or economically disadvantaged, into deceptive romantic relationships and exploit them in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Canadian victims within and across the country, and sometimes abroad, mainly in the United States. Traffickers exploit foreign women, primarily from Asia and Eastern Europe, in sex trafficking in Canada. Traffickers exploit legal foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa in forced labor in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, construction, food processing, restaurants, and hospitality, or as domestic workers, including isolated reports of incidents in diplomatic households. Migrant workers in the caregiving and agricultural sectors were at the highest risk of forced labor due to language barriers, isolated worksites, and limited access to protections. Media reports indicated some employers confined migrant workers to employer premises during the pandemic, including through the use of armed guards to restrict workers from departing farm grounds, and some imposed wage deductions to obtain food and supplies on workers’ behalf at high rates. Some foreign nationals are exploited by traffickers with ties to organized crime networks in victims’ home countries. Canadians travel abroad to purchase sex acts from child victims in other countries, and foreign nationals purchase sex acts from child victims in Canada. Traffickers in Canada operate individually and via family-based connections; some are affiliated with street gangs and transnational organized crime.