Human Smuggling Becomes Human Trafficking in Canada

Human trafficking and human smuggling are terms often used interchangeably but there is a very big distinction. Interpol explains the difference as “the individuals who pay a smuggler in order to gain illegal entry to a country do so voluntarily whereas the victims of human trafficking are often duped or forced into entering another country.” For immigrants who are smuggled into Canada, their journey ends at the dock, airport or bus station but for victims of human trafficking their journey into forced labor or sex trafficking doesn’t begin until they step foot onto Canadian soil. The problem lies in that more times than not, human smuggling turns into human trafficking. Smugglers offer an attractive service for many desperate refugees fleeing poverty and violence. Desperate for a better life, immigrants spend thousands of dollars to be illegally smuggled into Canada. As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, once the refugee reaches Canadian soil they can not be returned back home if they will face persecution in their home country. Known for its liberal refugee laws, Canada welcomes an estimated one in ten refugees for resettlement. While these laws may sound generous, in 2011 Canada made it illegal to apply for refugee status while living outside the country. Without the option to be granted refugee status from their home country, many immigrants chose to be spend weeks in inhumane conditions hiding in the bottom of ships in order to live in Canada.

Choosing to be smuggled into Canada is a gamble, both financially and physically. Immigrants often give their life savings to international smuggling rings, depending on the smugglers to bring them to a safe new life in Canada. Once they arrive in Canada, 600-800 immigrants annually find themselves inadvertent victims of human trafficking. That number of immigrants smuggled into Canada and then trafficked into the United States almost doubles to an estimated 1,500-2,200 people annually.

In one of its reports, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) stated that “Typically … human trafficking and debt bondage involve the trafficker having an agent in another country, Thailand or the Philippines among the most popular, to recruit workers. The agent, usually a white man to provide a “Canadian face,” makes an offer of employment in Canada and then sells his services to the prospective worker. The fee can be many thousands of dollars that, the worker is assured, can easily be made back once in Canada. Often the workers will mortgage their land or homes or sell their possessions to make the trip and take advantage of “the opportunity.” When they arrive in Canada they soon discover the situation is vastly different. Third-party traffickers tell them where they must live, usually in overcrowded and terrible housing, told with whom they can and cannot associate, even where they must shop. They are arbitrarily picked up and moved from job to job. The wages are too low to ever pay off their debts.”

If the trafficking victim is lucky enough to escape, they can apply for a Temporary Resident Permit for Victims of Human Trafficking which allows them to stay for 180 days in Canada while recovering from their ordeal and deciding if they want to return home. Survivors of human trafficking who are granted a Temporary Resident Permit are eligible for health care benefits and trauma counseling. During the 180 days the survivor also has the option of applying for a work permit, although until the work permit is granted they are unable to work. Once the 180 days are up, the human trafficking survivor will again have the one in ten chance of receiving refugee resettlement status in Canada.