Trafficking in Canada aka the ramblings of a foreign intern

Guest writer for this post is K, a good friend and colleague. She and I were the two in our cohort who focused specifically on human trafficking. She is currently in a practicum in Canada. The following are some of her initial impression.

Also, dear readers of an MSW in Cambodia, please take time to leave a little note for K so that she knows how much her contribution is being appreciated– even if you don’t have answers or comments on her post. It’s kinda fun having a guest over here. I want to encourage it!


Things here are going well. I’m learning a lot about the Canadian system and how they view human trafficking. I’ve had some thoughts and would love your feedback.

First some context:

Canada is basically a Tier Two country. This means that the US gave them a warning that they need to improve or the US will cut off any aid. This has huge implications if your a developing country. If you don’t really care about aid (such as Canada) its a black eye on your reputation. (Some countries like Russia and China don’t really care about either). To get a Tier Two ranking you have to really be doing very little to combat trafficking. In other words, little to no victim rights, poor legislation, little awareness, etc.

Where Canada is at now:

1) Canada has two definitions of trafficking. Yes, two. This creates a problem when you want to charge a criminal and the defense attorney says, “but he didn’t meet definition number 2 and definition number 1 is just plain unconstitutional”. It also makes it difficult to do…well…anything as a policy advocate (aka me).

2) In both of Canada’s definitions you have to have movement to have trafficking. I know this means little to you all, but I’m sure Clare is gasping with horror as she reads this 😉 This basically means that domestic slavery (the enslavement of your own citizens) is exceptionally difficult to prove because it is not unusual, at least in urban areas, for traffickers to not leave the city. For example, a runaway from Toronto is captured by traffickers in Montreal. The traffickers force the girl (who they found in Montreal) into a brothel in Montreal. By their definition, this is not trafficking. It would be anywhere else (well, in most other places). The implications of this is fewer victims rights and less penalty for the perps.

5) the federal age of consent to have sex is 14 years old. This makes sex trafficking of minors (anyone under 18 years of age) difficult if not impossible to prove. Notice how the laws don’t match up (i.e. 14 then 18…think of the two definitions). Also complicating the matter is that prostitution is legal.

Where this leaves me:

I’ve started work on the Alternative Report to the UN. The report is on how Canada is implementing the UN Optional Protocol on the Sale of the Child, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. This is our opportunity to really call the Canadian gov out while also encourage some progress it has made. (for instance acknowledging that holding a child victim of sexual exploitation in police detention with adults is not a good thing). Right now it involves me doing a lot of calling, but its a good opportunity to see the process from beginning to almost end (it will be submitted early Oct I leave end of August so I’ll miss about a month.) I also get to start my calls with “I’m writing a report for the UN” which just makes me feel cool 🙂

Because we’re starting with almost nothing, I’m learning a lot about program development, which I didn’t learn about in school. This is a good thing. Also, we have a huge meeting on Thursday and we’re working our butt off to get everything done. A lot of government officials are coming to the meeting to talk about the rights of child victims. Many seem enthusiastic and are relatively high level. I get to practice my lobbying skills. This will be made even more interesting by the fact that the meeting will be entirely in French and I only speak a word (bonjour everyone, by the way) 🙂

I’m also learning a lot about border control (which is not such an issue in the Midwest). For example, if a guy shows up at the border with 3 kids and just says he’s their uncle (no actual proof of this) the Canadian border control won’t even ask a question. The Canadian government has recently acknowledged this is probably not a good thing (this acknowledgment came about after a report which indicated tons of kids from the US were being trafficked into Canada for sexual purposes). Still, they have indicated a willingness to change which is the beginning. I will hopefully be researching best practices concerning border control and helping write a suggested protocol for investigating suspicious situations. This will be great learning opportunity.

Philosophical Implications:

1) Political navigation – I, as a foreigner, will be researching controversial Canadian issues and writing position papers. How do you incorporate what others believe about power, a victim centered/feminist view point, your own belief system about power, while being sensitive to the fact that the context has changed?

2) Trying to understand people’s confusion on things you think are self explanatory: See the two definitions issues and not asking questions about separated children (A separated child is a kid who is with an adult that is not their legal guardian. See the border example above). How do tell people they are being stupid in a nice, politically savy way? haha 🙂

3) Not making assumptions about welfare policy: I have officially found out that having universal health care and a “liberal” government does not mean diddly squat when it comes to victims rights

4) The two definitions and requiring movement have really profound implications when it comes to policies and interventions. I’m sure only my social work friends would be interested in this, so I won’t go into it here. BUT, I can see how this would impact all the social workers on this email so drop me a line and we’ll talk shop :-).

Don’t let my points give you the wrong impression. I love my internship. The fact that I have so much to talk about is proof enough.



  1. Hi K! Thanks for posting. Great to have a new voice on here. I guess I want to first of all say that I did scoff when it said transportation needed to be involved. So often it is not and I know that you, being especially a good advocate of domestic trafficking, would be upset by this. Also, I wanted to respond to some of your ethical issues:

    1) I think part of it is taking into account what the new context is and how that effects the underlying principals you believe in. Just because prostitution is accepted here does not mean I will accept it– at the same time I will realize that it is one of the only viable economic choices for women. Also, I think in the developing world, and this is a bit of a tangent, there is a little too much patronizing still going on: aka we will not teach about child sexual abuse because they/the country is not ready for it. That feels like a big power (colonial power, current aid giver power) deciding what a country is and is not ready for which i find really disturbing.

    2. I am pretty sure the correct answer here is no wack them upside the head and ask them if they are an idiot, nor is it to tell them to pull their head out of the sand (or their rear ends) and open their eyes. Perhaps the key is to make people feel good about the fact that they do care about the issue and then correct their incorrect knowledge. Think of yourself as a facilitator in Dave and Mike’s class or as a preschool teacher (repeating the important points over and over).

    3. Do not attack any officials (or anyone else who may or may not be wearing a gun).

    4. Could you go into it? I will give you more space on the blog to do so! Also, why did the two definitions come about?

  2. Great feedback. Thanks! I’ll organize my thoughts about the last one and let you know 🙂

    One thing that I think was lacking in our education was “persuasive speaking”. My bro is taking a class on it and my father has a history of researching and implementing persuasive speaking. It’s an art form that I think GWB is very uncomfortable with.

    I remember, in one of our classes we took together being told by the teacher that I needed to hear everyone’s ideas out and see them as valid. This had come after our debate in class where I had (as you usually do in a debate) challenged one of the other statements. Now, I agree that we everyone’s ideas are valid, however, not everyone’s ideas are right nor should they be accepted (which is what I think she meant when you consider the entire conversation).

    I had another experience where a teacher basically said that if you disagree with someone and then try and explain why, you’re being rude. (in all of these experiences I talked with fellow classmates who said in fact I was not going about it in a rude way, but was just trying to have a conversation. Which is great because that’s what I was aiming for.)

    Knowing how to convice people you are right and that other ideas are wrong is going to be important because as advocates we will, at times (ok many times), be going to up against the status quo.

    Seeing as persuasion is such an intigral part of being an advocate, and that every good social worker should be an advocate in one way or another, it makes me wonder why GWB is so uncomfortable with it. You would think we would be scrambling to learn how to convince people that the poor are worthwhile, gay people are just like straight people, the mentally ill are not useless, children should have rights, women are just as capable than men, the disable are productive members of society, etc.

    This reminds me of another instance of distain about persuasion from GWB. In my first class (Foundations 1) we read an articles about how any fundamentalist can’t be a social worker. Now, fundamentalist (which is a word that is sooooo overused) was defined as: anyone who believes in something so passionately that they use political means to make people fall in line (obviously I’m paraphrasing). No where in the defintion was religion or political party mentioned. Just people who believe in something so much that they use political means to inforce it on others. Everyone in the class fell over themselves to say that no fundamentalist could or should ever be a social worker (in their minds and discussion this meant a Christian).

    I raised my hand and pointed out that by this definition, this would make ANY advocate a fundamentalist and that the arguement that their agreeing to was that we should say we believe principles but never actually do anything to get change acheived……they never really new how to answer but they were sure that they didn’t like my point of view (kinda rude wouldn’t you say) ;-P

    Have I persuaded you to comment back???

  3. I am not a social worker. I am an Immigration Officer in Canada. I work inland however I have worked in the past at a land border port. I feel a strong need to comment with regards to “this guy shows up at the border with three kids…” I can’t even count how many times situations such as these were referred to Immigration Secondary in my time at the POE. Here we demand a letter of consent from both parents as well as a phone number to contact the parent(s). Also, we would separate the child from the adult and question them. I refused entry to most in situations such as these and if I felt the situation was serious I’d refer the case to the “Missing Children Program” advocate.
    Perhaps you would like to research the program.
    Secondly, I have never in 6 years of working inland enforcement have I seen children identified as exploited/trafficked ect. be put into detention. Children’s Aid usually steps in in those cases. Also, only in extreme situations are minors even detained (eg. dangerous gang members etc.). When children are in a detention centre, they are not formally detained, rather are there at the request of the parent who has been legally detained.
    I hope this helps you understand a few things. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information. (off the record of course)

  4. Lynn,

    I really appreciate the time you took to leave this comment and I think you raise a lot of really interesting points. Also, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to decide what is a serious case and what is not. Obviously, I cannot comment on the situation in Canada; however, I can’t help thinking of two other parallel situations.

    1- when I worked in Moldova it was amazing as to how the children were coached on what to say. we have to remember that in human trafficking cases, sometimes the victim goes willingly because they were coerced or tricked, sometimes they do not know what will happen on the other side. I wonder what questions could help to illuminate if someone has been coached or is telling the truth.

    2- a friend who used to work for the foriegn service used to talk to me about parents taking minors out of the country and how hard it was to determine if it was legitimate. In this country many people didn’t have phones, also often he didn’t know if he was really talking to other parent or someone impersonating them. Living in the land of forgery (that I currently live in and in Moldova where you can get anything for a price) it just seems hard to find that line.

    If you have any more thoughts… I would love to hear them.

  5. Thanks for the replies to my post! Sorry I didn’t respond earlier; however, I only realized someone other than Clare responded. Who knew people would actually comment? So, to clarify:

    When I wrote the post I was referring to a systematic issue, not necessarily what an individual border officer does. Lynn thanks for inquiring into separated children! It is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.

    As for the systematic issue:

    1. Issue with detention:
    Unaccompanied children are often detained because of a jurisdictional issue. Yes, detention is supposed to only be for violent and extreme issues (like gang members). However, when implementing the rule, things get much messier. Youth protection is a provincial issue. Immigration is a federal issue. In Canada (as in many other countries) where those two jurisdictions meet a lot of problems occur.

    In fact, most unaccompanied children are locked into detention. Not because they are supposed to but, as I mentioned, because of jurisdictional issues. When this occurs Youth Protection will not get involved. Why? Because Youth Protection only gets involved if the child’s health or protection is at risk. When a child is put in detention, their health and protection is, theoretically, no longer at risk. Therefore, they will refuse to intercede.

    If an unaccompanied minor is very young, it is easier for Youth Protection to intervene. However, this is still a long process because of the jurisdictional issues. More and more, individual areas along the border are forming partnerships between immigration and youth protection to change this (which is great!) However, teens are still primarily left without any recourse but detention. This is a known problem that immigration officials have acknowledged and are trying to change.

    Now, in regards to locking up children with their abusers. Detention is supposed to go to violent youths only (such as gangs) as mentioned above and in an earlier reply. Unaccompanied children (anyone without an adult) get detained because of jurisdictional issues. The problem: gangs in Canada have been found to be commonly behind child and teen trafficking (both labor and sex). You can see how this is a huge problem.

    2. Youth Protection and Age

    Another issue is the age of the child. Some provinces end services for youth at a very young age (Ontario is 15 years old). Therefore, a 16 year old is no longer qualified for services (this is different in Vancouver where, as a city, they raised the age to 17). However, adult services do not start until 18 years old. Obviously, there is a huge problem when child services end at 15 and adult services only start at 18. This gap is a commonly cited issue across Canada and is still trying to be solved.

    3. Separated Children at the border
    Here the problem is, once again, a matter of implementation. I love that Lynn asks questions. It’s wonderful and you should be commended. Not just because you are supposed to, but because you might have saved several lives because of it.

    However, the fact of the matter is that, as a systematic issue, most of the procedures for asking questions are not implemented or are not implemented fully.

    This is getting more complicated by the new passport requirements between the US and Canada. There is currently a proposal that would not require any children to have passports at the border. Why? Because requiring adults to have passports now is slowing down commerce and they think that taking away the need for a child (starting at 11 years) would speed things up. This is a very bad idea and, fortunately, has met a lot of resistance.

    Another issue, just as Clare mentioned, is the fact that children who are trafficked are not obvious. Most likely they will not be crying, covered in bruises, etc. Sometimes they have not been exploited yet (they are crossing the border with the intent of exploitation). Also, it is not unusal for someone the child trusts to be a middleman for the traffickers (such as an extended family member, family friend, etc.) Because of this, finding child trafficking victims is very very very difficult. This is why, all the more, strong implimentation is key. That doesn’t even touch on how easy it is to forge a notarized letter.

    Hope that clarifies my comments!

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