Only 11% of human trafficking cases result in guilty decision: StatCan

Click to play video: 'Only 4 in 10 human trafficking cases saw charges laid in past decade: StatCan'
Only 4 in 10 human trafficking cases saw charges laid in past decade: StatCan
WATCH ABOVE: Only 4 in 10 human trafficking cases saw charges laid in past decade, StatCan report says – Dec 5, 2023

Content warning: this post contains details that some readers may find disturbing.

Human trafficking in Canada largely goes unpunished, new data shows.

A Statistics Canada report, released Monday, shows only a small portion of trafficked people see their traffickers brought to justice, that police solve fewer than half of cases and that most incidents reported to police do not result in charges being laid.

“Hearing those statistics, it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes,” said Wyndolyn Brown, a trafficking survivor.

Survivors and a researcher who spoke with Global News say the system is stacked against survivors, and that the data shows there are few consequences for human traffickers.

“If [human traffickers are] not stopped, how many other girls do they traffic along the way?” another survivor, Sarah Dillon, asked.
Story continues below advertisement

The report shows that nearly 4,000 human trafficking incidents were reported to police from 2012 until 2022.

Nearly all were against women and girls, who were “overwhelmingly young” with almost 70 per cent younger than 25, the report states. One-quarter of women and girls affected were under the age of 18.

But of the nearly 4,000 incidents reported, only 40 per cent resulted in police laying charges or recommending charges be laid.

Fifty-six per cent of incidents were not solved. The report says that could be because the incident could still be under investigation, that there could be insufficient evidence or because no accused person could be identified.

More than 3,500 charges were laid in just over 1,000 cases, but only 11 per cent of completed adult criminal court cases resulted in a guilty decision.

Eighty-three per cent of cases ended with the charges being stayed, withdrawn, dismissed or discharged, according to the report.

The data does not include superior courts in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan or municipal courts in Quebec.

The survivors told Global News the numbers are so low because the system does not support survivors – and a researcher said the justice system places the burden on trafficked people, not the trafficker.

Story continues below advertisement

Dillon said she wasn’t surprised by the numbers because, “I had to go through the court system and see what it was like.”

She said she was 18 when she was trafficked. She is 23 now.

Click to play video: 'Unmasking Human Trafficking: Myths, misconceptions and the reality in Canada'
Unmasking Human Trafficking: Myths, misconceptions and the reality in Canada

“I went to a party and … I never came home. It was really just a couple horrific things happened to me at that party,” she said, speaking from Orillia, Ont.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

She said she was trafficked for a year before she was able to escape, though she said she also returned a few times afterwards because of the coercion and manipulation her trafficker exerted on her.

Dillon is now an advocate and told Global News she believed the rate of sex traffickers being found guilty is so low because the criminals “are good at what they do.”

Story continues below advertisement

“They’re very good at what they do,” she said, telling Global News she was trafficked in the United States and in the Caribbean.

She also said police can struggle to get evidence.

“The sex trade — it’s all cash. There’s no paper trail,” she said.

Brown, now 54, told Global News she was trafficked when she was 15 for about a year.

If I had to walk from where [her trafficker] had me to where my parents lived at that time, it probably would have [taken] me about 20 minutes, she said, speaking from Halifax.

“But because of the dynamics of what was happening and being always under the influence of some type of substance that he would give me and the control that he had over me, I couldn’t do that.”

Now also an advocate, Brown said the time between any trafficking is reported and when a trial starts gives traffickers more opportunities to re-exert control.

Story continues below advertisement

A trafficking court case takes nearly 400 days on average to complete, according to a previous StatCan report. That’s more than twice as long as sex trade cases and other violent offence cases.

“By (the time the trafficker is arrested), that man has already probably been back talking to you and trying to… put the manipulation back on your head,” Brown said.

“And then we have another statistic… because now we’re going back and the cycle just completes itself over and over.”

James McLean, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking’s head of research and policy, told Global News the country’s judicial system relies heavily on survivors’ testimony.

He said those who escaped trafficking will likely have to recount what happened several times, first to a police officer, then to victims’ services and again in court — often with their trafficker present.

“This has become a major obstacle when the survivor has experienced exploitative trauma and abuse and have to relive it through the court system for months or even years,” he said, speaking from Toronto.

“We see that many survivors do choose not to go through the criminal justice system because it can be so intrusive, because it can be so time-intensive and because it can be re-traumatizing.”

Story continues below advertisement

And because survivors find trials so hard to endure, McLean said the accused traffickers’ charges are often dropped and they’re convicted of lesser or different crimes.

Click to play video: 'Not4Sale making big impact on human trafficking in Mexico'
Not4Sale making big impact on human trafficking in Mexico

Brown said testifying at the trial for her trafficker was very difficult.

“My parents would literally hear the truth. And I was ashamed,” she said. “I went through sodomy (and) gang rape every other day.”

McLean and Dillon said defence attorneys may try to undermine survivors’ credibility during a trial, questioning their recall of details or character.

“Survivors are often dealing with intense amounts of trauma and so they may misremember facts or they may remember things differently over the course of a trial,” McLean said.

“Some people may interpret that as lacking credibility, but it’s the way that a brain works when it’s been impacted by trauma.”

Story continues below advertisement

And trafficked people using drugs — which traffickers can use to exploit them, according to an American think tank — “makes it so easy for them to be discredited,” in court, Dillon said.

She also said judges should look at testimony from “more of a trauma standpoint.”

“All we want you to do is to believe us, because we are your best witness,” Brown said.

McLean said survivors often require services like housing and mental health or addictions services. He said the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking had called on the federal and provincial governments to invest in more support.

He also said the statistics likely miss many more human trafficking incidents.

Global News asked the federal government what it was doing to increase the number of charges laid, cases solved and guilty verdicts decided.

In 2021, the federal government announced the Victims Fund, which provides $1 million annually to anti-trafficking related projects, according to Public Safety Canada’s website.

That same year Ottawa passed a bill requiring provincial superior court judges to receive training on the issues related to sexual assault.

Jean-Sébastien Comeau, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said Canada’s law enforcement agencies “are working every day to disrupt human trafficking networks and bring the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes to justice.”

Story continues below advertisement

In Canada, anyone who witnesses human trafficking or sexual exploitation, or is experiencing it, can call the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.

— With files from Sawyer Bogdan and Amber Fryday

Sponsored content