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Trafficking or Pimping? An Analysis of Canada’s Human Trafficking Legislation and its Implications1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2013

Katrin Roots*
PhD Candidate, Socio-Legal Studies York University email:


In 2005, Canada implemented its first-ever domestic human trafficking legislation under sections 279.01 through 279.04 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The first conviction under this legislation came about three years after its implementation, with a total of only five convictions having been obtained as of January of 2011. This article examines the legislation and the legislative definition of human trafficking in Canada, arguing that the vagueness of this legislation, the breadth of the legislative definition, and its similarity to other provisions within the Criminal Code make it difficult to distinguish human trafficking from other criminal offences, particularly procurement, or in lay language—pimping, which is governed under section 212 of the Code. Analyzing cases identified as human trafficking by Canadian police and legal authorities, this article demonstrates the problematic effects of Canada’s human trafficking legislation. The article points out the challenges arising from identifying non-trafficking cases as human trafficking, including undermining the severity of human trafficking and impeding efforts to combat it.


En 2005, Canada a adopté pour la toute première fois une réglementation contre la traite des êtres humains en vertu de l’articles 279.01–279.04 du Code criminel canadien. La première condamnation en vertu de cette loi survenait trois ans après sa mise en œuvre, avec un total de cinq condamnations seulement jusqu’en janvier 2011. Cet article analyse la réglementation ainsi que la définition législative de la traite des êtres humains au Canada. Selon l’auteure, le caractère vague de la législation, l’ampleur de la définition législative, ainsi que sa similarité à d’autres provisions du Code criminel fait en sorte qu’il est difficile de distinguer entre le trafic des personnes et d’autres crimes, notamment le proxénétisme régi en vertu de l’article 212 du Code criminel. En analysant les cas que les autorités policières et gouvernementales canadiennes ont classifiés comme trafic de personnes, cet article démontre les conséquences problématiques de la réglementation contre la traite des êtres humains. Cet article souligne les défis que surviennent lorsque les autorités identifient d’autres crimes comme traite de personnes, minant, par ce fait même, la sévérité ainsi que les efforts afin de combattre celle-ci.

Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association / Association Canadienne Droit et Société 2013 

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2 United States Department of Justice and Government of Canada, “Bi-National Assessment of Trafficking in Persons” (2006): 1.

3 Ibid.

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9 Kamala Kempadoo, “From Moral Panic to Global Justice: Changing Perspectives on Trafficking,” introduction to Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered, Kempadoo et al. (2005): vvii–xxxiv.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

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21 Doezema, “Who gets to choose?”

22 Ibid., 4.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 21.

25 Ibid.

26 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada.”

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41 Ibid., 21.

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43 Oxman-Martinez et al., “Victims of Trafficking in Persons,” 13.

44 Jeffrey, “Canada and Migrant Sex-Work.”

45 Christine Bruckert and Colette Parent, Organized Crime and Human Trafficking in Canada: Tracing Perceptions and Discourses (Ottawa, ON: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services Directorate, Research and Evaluation Branch, 2004).

46 Oxman-Martinez and Hanley, “A Follow-up Study of Canadian Policy on Human Trafficking Impacts.”

47 Palermo Protocol.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid., 2.

50 United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Criminalization of Human Trafficking,” from What is Human Trafficking?, UNODC website, 2011.

51 UN GIFT, “The Effectiveness of Legal Framework and Anti-trafficking Legislation in the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking: 023 Workshop [Vienna, Austria],” UNODC (2008): 4.

52 Ibid., “An Introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action [Vienna, Austria],” UNODC (2008): 11.

53 UNODC, “Criminalization of Human Trafficking.”

54 Criminal Code of Canada, RS 1985, c C-46, ss 279.01–279.04.

55 IRPA, SC 2001, c 27, s 118 (1).

56 Annette Sikka, “Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada,” Aboriginal Policy Research Series, Institute on Governance, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Ottawa (2009): 4.

57 Ibid., 5.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., 5.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid., 5.

63 Criminal Code of Canada, RS 1985, c C-46, ss 279.01–279.04.

64 Sikka, “Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada.”

65 Ibid.

66 Section 211 of the Criminal Code of Canada criminalizes directing or transporting an individual to a common bawdy-house. This differs from the transportation component in human trafficking, since it refers to a voluntary act that can be performed by the sex worker, the “pimp,” or the client.

67 Palermo Protocol.

68 UN GIFT, “The Effectiveness of Legal Framework and Anti-trafficking Legislation.”

69 Ibid.

70 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada,” 39.

71 The term “parasitic” is a vague notion, which has created considerable debate around its implications in the lives of sex workers (Van der Meulen 2010).

72 R v Downey, 1992 SCC 190 (available on CanLII), 3.

73 Ibid., 5.

74 Ibid.

75 Ibid.

76 Van der Meulen, Emily, “Ten Illegal Lives, Loves and Work: How the Criminalization of Procuring Affects Sex Workers in Canada,” Wagadu 8 (2010).

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78 Bedford v Canada, 2010 ONSC 4264 (available on CanLII), 74.

79 R v Downey, 1992 SCC 190 (available on CanLII), 5.

80 R v G, 2001 SKPC 369 (available on CanLII).

81 R v Willis, 1997 ABPC AJ no 640 (available on QL).

82 R v Downey, 1992 SCC 190 (available on CanLII), 4.

83 Perrin, Invisible Chains.

84 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada.”

85 Ibid.

86 Perrin, Invisible Chains.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada.”

91 Perrin, Invisible Chains.

92 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada,” 20.

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99 Ibid.

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101 R v Downey and Thompson, 2010 ONSC 1531 (available on CanLII).

102 Rosella, “Pair get 15 years.”

103 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada.”

104 Criminal Code of Canada, RS 1985, c C-46, ss 279.01 (1).

105 R v AR, 1998 ABPC 8 (available on CanLII).

106 R v Cole, 2004 QCCM 58282 at para 1 (available on CanLII).

107 R v AKG, 1998 ABPC 137 (available on CanLII).

108 R v AKG, 1998 ABPC 137 at para 17 (available on CanLII).

109 R v VJS, 1994 NSSC 7589 (available on CanLII).

110 R v B, 2004 ONCA 36124 at para 2 (available on CanLII).

111 According to s 211, “Every one who knowingly takes, transports, directs, or offers to take, transport or direct, any other person to a common bawdy-house is guilty of an offence” (Criminal Code of Canada).

112 R v Crichlow, 2003 QCCM 55434 (available on CanLII), 2.

113 R v B, 2004 ONCA 36124 at para 10 (available on CanLII).

114 R v Tynes, 2010 QCCQ 11298 (available on CanLII).

115 R v Wallace, 2009 ABCA 300 (available on CanLII).

116 R v Hayes, 1998 BCCA 5627 (available on CanLII).

117 Doezema, “Who gets to choose?”

118 Criminal Intelligence Services Canada (CISC), “Organized Crime and Domestic Trafficking in Persons in Canada: Strategic Intelligence Brief,” 2008.

119 Perrin, Invisible Chains.

120 RCMP, “Human Trafficking in Canada.”

121 Ibid.

122 Perrin, Invisible Chains.

123 Ibid.

124 Ibid., 120.

125 Ibid.

126 Criminal Code of Canada, RS 1985, c C-46, ss 279.01 (1b).

127 Criminal Code of Canada, RS 1985, c C-46, ss 279.01 (1a).

128 R v Martinez, 1994 NL.S.C.T.D. 4480 (available on CanLII).

129 R v B, 2004 ONCA 36124 (available on CanLII).