Thank you. Good afternoon.
Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to talk to you about the RCMP's role and efforts in human trafficking.
The RCMP plays a central role in the Government of Canada's overarching priority to provide for the safety and security of Canadians and, as such, has a mandate to investigate criminal offences related to human trafficking.
To strengthen efforts to combat the trafficking of persons, in 2005 the RCMP established the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre at national headquarters in Ottawa. The coordination centre is a resource for Canadian law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat and disrupt individuals and criminal organizations involved in human trafficking activities. As part of this effort, the centre develops investigative tools and guidelines, coordinates national awareness campaigns and training, disseminates information and intelligence, develops partnerships domestically and abroad, and coordinates national and international human trafficking law enforcement initiatives.
As an extension of the national centre, there are three regional RCMP human trafficking awareness coordinators in the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. These coordinators raise awareness with regard to human trafficking and build partnerships with law enforcement, government, non-governmental organizations, and the public. Those in these positions are also members of networks that aim to address human trafficking through participation on committees, response teams, and coalitions.
Furthermore, in 2013 the RCMP developed a national strategy to combat human trafficking, which outlines current and future efforts in combatting this crime. The goal of the strategy is to reduce the prevalence of and the harms caused by human trafficking in Canada and abroad.
With respect to the enforcement of legislation, both the Criminal Code of Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act include human trafficking specific provisions. Numerous additional Criminal Code offences can apply to human trafficking cases, including but not limited to kidnapping, forceable confinement, uttering threats, sexual assault, criminal organization offences, and prostitution-related offences. Having these provisions enables law enforcement to address not only international but also domestic human trafficking cases.
The RCMP leverages Canadian and foreign law enforcement information on human trafficking in order to identify new targets or uncover previously unknown threats. The RCMP is also engaged with groups such as the Santa Marta Group, which combines the efforts of NGOs worldwide and clergy from the Catholic Church who collectively work together to eliminate human trafficking.
Of note, from 2005 to November 2017, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre identified 455 cases where human trafficking specific charges were laid. Of the total, 433 were domestic human trafficking cases and 22 were international. Of these cases, 118 have successfully resulted in human trafficking specific or related convictions. These cases involved 321 victims and 180 individuals who were convicted of multiple offences. Currently there are approximately 296 human trafficking cases before the courts that involve approximately 506 accused and 420 victims.
While these numbers provide insight into the prevalence of this crime in Canada, the clandestine nature of human trafficking and the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward to law enforcement, as well as the challenges of identifying victims, make it extremely difficult to assess the true extent of this crime. Furthermore, the statistics identified by the coordination centre are derived from human trafficking specific cases across Canada that the centre's research has identified and should not be taken as a full representation of the extent or the prevalence of human trafficking.
Reporting of these cases to the national coordination centre is not a mandatory requirement for law enforcement agencies in Canada. It is worth noting that human trafficking for sexual exploitation continues to constitute the majority of trafficking cases encountered by law enforcement across Canada, most often in large urban centres, with most victims being Canadian women. However, more evidence of human trafficking for forced labour has come to light during the past few years, which often involves foreign nationals as victims and perpetrators.
As previously noted, the RCMP's law enforcement efforts are coordinated through the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre. As an example of our enforcement efforts, in October 2017 the RCMP led the sixth edition of Operation Northern Spotlight, a coordinated law enforcement outreach operation to proactively engage vulnerable persons who are in the sex industry, in an effort to identify and assist those who are being exploited or at risk of human trafficking. The Canadian operation involved 57 law enforcement partners across Canada, and took place in collaboration with counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom. As a result of this operation, 14 persons were arrested and a total of 21 charges were laid.
In recent years, the national coordination centre conducted several mass distributions of the “I'm not for sale” awareness campaign, and provided training and awareness sessions to law enforcement officials, prosecutors, government employees, non-governmental organizations, youth, and indigenous communities. The RCMP also completed threat assessments on human trafficking. Specifically, Project Safekeeping in 2013 provided insight into the nature and extent of domestic human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Canada, including characteristics of traffickers and victims.
The RCMP continues to monitor and assess the level of human trafficking in Canada. While the national action plan to combat human trafficking expired on March 31, 2016, the RCMP's efforts to combat this crime and associated crime continue, primarily through the national coordination centre and in line with the RCMP's national strategy. Going forward, the RCMP will continue to collaborate with its law enforcement partners across the country to investigate this crime and continue to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. I would be pleased to take any questions.