Definition and Legislation: Human Trafficking

A piece I wrote for an organization on human trafficking. In particular, I focused on the definition of human trafficking and human trafficking legislation. Sources are available below!

A recent issue identified by the RCMP and Canadian Federal Government is the increase in human trafficking. In relation to this issue, the discourse that surrounds human trafficking definitions and its legislation is troubling for sex workers in northern Ontario, including Aboriginal sex workers. One of the key issues among various reports is the definition of human trafficking itself (Sikka 2009: 4; RCMP 2010: 8). The RCMP uses a two-part definition stemming from two different pieces of legislation, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), and the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) (RCMP 2010: 6). The major difference between these pieces of legislation is how they attempt to identify human trafficking victims themselves. On one hand, the IRPA attempts to identify human trafficking victims at an international level, meaning the crossing of an international border (RCMP 2010: 8). On the other hand, the CCC identifies human trafficking victims as being “uniquely Canadian” and unique to “vulnerable, economically challenged and socially dislocated sectors of the Canadian population” (RCMP 2010: 8). The use of the CCC definition is an attempt to target those populations in socially dislocated regions. These specific regions are characterized as regions with excessive resource development, specifically northern First Nations (Campbell 2008: 66). In addition to the CCC definition targeting specific regions and specific populations within Canada, a human trafficking victim does not have to be consensual or non-consenual in the elements that surround human trafficking; thereby, removing agency from the victim (RCMP 2010: 43). In “Human Trafficking in Canada,” the RCMP has identified that human trafficking victims and human trafficking perpetrators may share the same ethnic background (RCMP 2010: 1). Therefore, the CCC definition potentially criminalizes relationships between a sex worker and their family members. For example, family members of similar ethnic background of sex workers and who also share the same residence or who are also receiving material benefit (food/clothing/shelter) from the sex worker’s income might be subjected to charges under section 279.01 (1) and 279.02 of the CCC. The RCMP has also identified that sex workers may not identify themselves as victims of human trafficking (RCMP 2010: 38). It is the criminal justice system and its definition that defines who is the victim (or the perpetrator). Even if a sex worker does not agree with the label of being a victim or being trafficked, he/she may be forced to see herself as a victim in order to access adequate health services. Definitions of domestic human trafficking limit the sex worker’s freedom of choice, and potentially criminalize personal/familial relationships of the sex worker. This type of oppressive legislations removes agency from sex workers by applying the label of human trafficking victim even before all elements of alleged human trafficking are met, and targets sex workers in the north, specifically Aboriginal sex workers.


Campbell, Kathryn M. 2008. “What Was It They Lost? The Impact of Resource Development on Family Violence in a Northern Aboriginal Community.” Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice 5(1): 57-80.

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