The common view of human trafficking is that it consists of women and girls being forced into sex work.
In reality, there are many forms of human trafficking and individuals experience a spectrum of exploitation.
Human trafficking is the result of:
Fraud and Deception
Abuse of Power
Removal of Organs
Slavery & Similar Practices
Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon touching upon various social, economic and legal aspects of our society.
It exists on a spectrum:
These violations exist in terms of worker safety and employment.
They include but aren’t limited to: unsafe conditions, violence, sexual abuse, excessive hours, withheld wages and unpaid labour.
Human Rights Violations
Human rights are breached when individuals experience discrimination, harassment, slavery, isolation, confinement and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This can happen to migrant workers or exist in situations like forced begging and marriage.
Criminal Code Violations
Employers commit a crime when they take and withhold a worker’s passport and identification, practice fraud and extortion, make threats, or subject their workers to violence and/or harassment.
Exploitation violates areas of the criminal code that are specific to human trafficking when there is punishment, threats of deportation or towards workers’ families, forced prostitution and/or psychological control of migrant workers.
Individuals have some legal remedies available along the spectrum of exploitation:
Remedies: Workers can file labour standards complaints and pressure their employer for better treatment.
Potential Outcomes: There may be a labour justice response as well as civil or administrative sanctions against the employer.
Human Rights Violations
Remedies: Individuals can file a complaint with a Human Rights Commission (but not all provinces have them).
Potential Outcomes: A Human Rights Tribunal response may ensure appropriate treatment.
Criminal Code Violations
Remedies: Individuals can contact the police or any law enforcement agency and call for help.
Potential Outcomes: There may be damages awarded, prosecution and a criminal justice response.
Remedies: Individuals can contact the police and seek a response based on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Potential Outcomes: Individuals may receive damages and the perpetrators could be prosecuted.
All these remedies are dependent on individuals reporting exploitation.
For migrant workers, Canada’s current immigration legislation makes it very easy for employers to exploit them.
Not every employer mistreats migrant workers. However, labour exploitation is rampant and one of the most subtle forms of trafficking. It is where migrant workers are made to work under coercion such as a unpaid wages or threats of deportation. The mistreatment is not always overt or obvious meaning law enforcement and observers can fail to recognize it.
Human trafficking occurs in restaurants, construction, agriculture and even private homes under the legislation of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. This program contains numerous protection gaps and policies that allow employers to employ migrants in abusive situations. These areas include:
Closed Work Permits
These temporary work permits are tied to a specific employer, barring workers from seeking alternative employment.
Leaving their initial employ for any reason, even abuse and harassment, immediately opens them to arrest and deportation.
No Union Rights
Ontario legislation does not allow agricultural workers to bargain collectively.
As a result, migrant workers cannot negotiate contracts and working conditions together.
Lack of Immigration Status
This allows migrant workers to be treated as disposable and bars them from asserting their rights.
Temporary Resident Permit Difficulties
This federal service grants temporary immigration status for survivors of human trafficking, but such applications are usually denied. One reason is that immigration officers grant or reject these applications at their own discretion.
Police officers, immigration officials, and other government agencies operate within a very limited framework that focuses on sex trafficking.
There are actually many forms of human trafficking such as labour exploitation, forced marriage and forced begging.
The Collaborative Network believes that the imbalance between migrant workers and employers must be addressed.
We and other organizations and advocates are calling on the Government of Canada to:
Adopt Open Permits
Migrant workers should be granted open work permits that do not restrict them to a single employer. This would help limit exploitation.
Grant Permanent Residency
Migrants should receive residency status immediately upon arrival in Canada. This will prevent employers from being able to threaten them with deportation.
Value Migrant Workers
The Government of Canada should acknowledge and respect the continuing contribution that migrant workers make to this country’s communities and economy.
In addition, the Collaborative Network seeks to raise awareness of how individuals can report trafficking and seek assistance.
A helpline is available at 1-833-999-9211, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. A national helpline is forthcoming.