Government of Canada
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Human Beings as a Commodity

Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons

Threat Issue

Migrant smuggling and the trafficking in persons are criminal activities in which organized crime has become involved internationally. The extent of organized crime’s involvement in these criminal activities in Canada are proactively monitored by law enforcement.Trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling are sources of significant profit, and help to strengthen and expand the capacities of criminal organizations internationally.The distinction between migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons is an important one, as smuggling implies consent while the latter implies coercion. According to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, migrant smuggling refers to the facilitation of illegal entry of a person into a country for financial gain. The trafficking in persons, on the other hand, involves the displacement of an individual by means of coercion, deceit or violence for the purpose of exploitation. Frequently, this involves the sexual exploitation of women and children, but also includes men and women trafficked for the purpose of forced labour or other services in debt bondage.

Although they represent very different offences, there are many parallels between illegal migrant smuggling and trafficking, such as the international displacement of individuals and their illegal entry into a country.There are also additional elements to the smuggling of illegal migrants that impacts on law enforcement’s ability to detect and determine the extent of the trafficking in persons.The smuggling and trafficking of individuals operate simultaneously. As a result, it is possible that within the same illegal movement, there are both smuggled and trafficked individuals. Moreover, since a number of potential trafficked victims are entering or transiting to the U.S., it is difficult for law enforcement to determine whether intercepted individuals were destined for commercial exploitation.

Overview of Criminal Activity

The smuggling of individuals across borders for the purpose of illegal migration or trafficking requires the ability and capacity to coordinate the transportation of these individuals. As a result, the criminal organizations involved are generally highly sophisticated. Some of these organized crime groups in Canada have the ability to coordinate the transportation of individuals from source countries to their final destination. Other groups or sub-groups within a larger criminal network specialize in one element, whether that be to organize the transportation of individuals across the border to the U.S., or in the acquisition of false or stolen documents, including passports and visas. Such specializations allow some organized crime groups to undertake contracts for their smuggling services on behalf of other groups.Thus, one shipment can entail a mix of individuals from various originating countries and ethnicities. For example, a smuggler was arrested in January 2005 trying to smuggle Chinese nationals and an Albanian into the U.S. through a train tunnel, linking Ontario to Michigan. In another incident last August, a Chinese and a Pakistani national were detained after they had been assisted crossing into the U.S. on a freight train from Canada. Many illegal migrants enter Canada intending to remain here, while others are in transit to the U.S. Smuggling fees paid by some migrants to arrive in Canada have ranged from approximately US$20,000-$50,000 per person.

While some criminal organizations in Canada specialize in migrant smuggling, some are also involved in the smuggling of other commodities, particularly illicit drugs such as cocaine and marihuana, firearms and currency. Moreover, some of these groups possess the technical skills to manufacture and/or have access to counterfeit documents or falsify genuine documents to facilitate the transportation phase of the smuggling operation.

Although significant media attention was focused on large numbers of individuals entering the west coast of Canada on ships in the summer of 1999, information indicates that most individuals illegally entering the country come by air and over land by car, train or on foot over a land border area. Individuals are smuggled to the U.S. at border areas across the country, but are particularly concentrated in Ontario and British Columbia.

Primarily a transit and destination country, persons are smuggled into Canada for the purpose of forced labour and sexual exploitation. For the most part, trafficked victims transiting Canada are destined for the U.S. The trafficking of persons may also occur within Canada across provinces. Historically,Asian and Eastern European organized crime groups in Canada have been most involved in the trafficking of women from countries such as China, South Korea,Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Russia and from the region of Latin America.Worldwide, profits generated by human trafficking are reported to compete with significant other criminal markets, such as the illicit trade in drugs and firearms. In April 2005, the first person to be charged in Canada with human trafficking occurred in British Columbia.

Negative Socio-economic Effects

Migrant smuggling and the trafficking in persons present health and safety risks.Traded as commodities frequently without regard to their safety or well-being, trafficked individuals are displaced from their homes and often held involuntarily, usually through the use of threat of violence towards themselves and/or their family.Trafficking in persons is increasingly viewed as a violation of human rights.

Should the market for trafficked victims increase in Canada or the demand increase in the U.S., then the numbers of victims requiring help from governmental and social services will expand.Trafficking in persons may also be associated with an increase in violence between criminal organizations vying for a portion of this lucrative market.

“Canadians have become more aware of organized crime’s involvement in the illicit goods and drug trades as a money maker for funding their agendas. But the growing problem, here and around the world, of human trafficking is a new and frightening phenomenon. Without the attention of law enforcement, human trafficking will have devastating effects on not only individual families but on the fabric of our society as a whole.”

RCMP Assistant Commissioner
Ian Atkins, Commanding Officer
“H” Division (Nova Scotia)

The illegal entry of migrants into Canada threatens the integrity of the formal immigration process. Illegal migration has an impact on immigrants arriving legally into the country, as the costs associated with deportation and immigration hearings divert resources away from those arriving through legitimate processes.The integrity of citizenship documents are also undermined as counterfeit and falsified documents are frequently used, particularly passports and visas. Furthermore, since a number of individuals arriving in Canada illegally are actually in transit to the U.S., a significant increase in the number of migrants smuggled or trafficking victims to the U.S. could place additional strain on law enforcement resources in both countries.

Internationally, organized crime makes use of legitimate businesses during their smuggling and trafficking operations, typically in the transportation and travel industry, in order to avail themselves of such services or to operate them.The international movement of individuals across borders, whether with illegal migrants or trafficked victims, can be facilitated by co-opted employees connected to the transportation and travel industries. These methods of operation challenge law enforcement as they provide a seemingly legitimate cover used by the majority of people that travel internationally on a daily basis.

Like most organized criminal activity, there are associated impacts to the trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling. Since the smuggling routes and methods of transportation can be used for any type of commodity, criminal groups will take advantage of these resources to expand their trafficking activities to include for example, illicit drugs. Increased profits from illegal migrants and trafficking activities, in addition to the smuggling and trafficking of other commodities, helps to expand the capacities and operational scope of criminal organizations.


Sexual Exploitation of Children