Canada is looking to create stronger domestic partnerships between investigative agencies, the country’s financial intelligence unit and banks, and bolster international communication, coordination and information sharing in a bid to better tackle the soaring scourge of human trafficking.

Those are some of the key goals detailed in a just-released Public Safety Canada discussion paper, which aims to help ensure that the country’s new national strategy, slated to be finalized and in place by late 2019, is evidence-based, informed by banks and law enforcement, sustainable and supports the prevention of this crime and the protection of its victims.

The report covered a bevy of strategies and revealed new incoming tactics and overarching recommendations to improve Canada’s processes to uncover, report on and prosecute offenders that would directly address previously identified gaps, including:

Strategies, recommendations:

  • Coordination: Develop, implement a coordinated approach to fully combat all areas of human trafficking
  • Cooperation: Strengthen partnerships with other levels of government, Indigenous communities, civil society, private sector, as well as bilateral and multilateral partners
  • Connections: Implement a mechanism to connect victims with access to dedicated services and facilitate reporting of human trafficking
  • Collections: Improve capacity to collect national data on human trafficking

Identified gaps:

  • Labor lag: Awareness of, and resources against, sex trafficking were considerably greater than those against labor trafficking;
  • Funding issues: NGOs reported that government funding for specialized services was inadequate; and inconsistent between different provinces, territories (P/Ts)
  • Data dilemma: Interagency coordination between authorities, investigators and banks was also uneven across the P/Ts, as was national data collection on anti-trafficking efforts.

The latest strategy is an update to efforts going on for several years to better identify the crime, protect victims and indict sex traffickers and those engaged in labor exploitation.

In June 2012, Canada launched the “National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking,” which was guided by the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol, ratified in Canada in 2002, and built upon existing federal responses to address human trafficking.

Millions of victims, billions in revenues

Estimates on the number of victims of trafficking in persons globally vary from 24 million 40 million, according to various groups, including the International Labor Organization and Global Slavery Index.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the “vast majority of known trafficking victims – around 70 per cent – are women and girls with one-third being children.”

In parallel, the proceeds of human trafficking have also risen substantially, according to a report released last month from a global anti-money laundering (AML) watchdog body.

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a report on human trafficking that delved into revelatory detail related to the red flags financial institutions would see that could be indicators of the crime, including things like funnel accounts, credit card transactions late at night at nail salons and massage parlors and firms with rising revenues and never issuing paychecks.

In recent years, the “number of victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling has continued to grow significantly,” according to FATF, noting that revenues have more than quadrupled in less than a decade – the last time the watchdog group gauged the pulse of the sector and released guidance.

In addition to the “terrible human cost,” the estimated proceeds that human trafficking generates have increased from $32 billion to more than $150 billion since FATF produced a comprehensive report on the laundering of the proceeds of these crimes in 2011.

When banks rank client trafficking risk, focus on vulnerable

The Canadian report also had revelations of its own that can help banks better risk score certain customers for being at risk for influenced or controlled by traffickers, while noting an overall scattershot approach worldwide to counter illicit activities.

In 2016, the Global Slavery Index assessed responses to modern slavery from “161 countries and reported that: 124 have criminalized human trafficking, in keeping with the Trafficking in Persons Protocol; 96 had national action plans to coordinate their government’s response; and 150 governments provided some form of service for human trafficking victims and survivors.”

But in Canada in particular, there are several groups considered particularly vulnerable, including: First Nation, Inuit, and Métis women and girls, youth in care, runaway and homeless youth, persons with disabilities, refugees and migrants and LGBTQ2persons.

 “Individuals across all income levels can be trafficked.” According to the report. “The common denominator is some form of vulnerability.”

‘Low risk, highly profitable’ crime

There is also another reason trafficking is on the rise in Canada – and the rest of world: it’s a much easier way for criminals to generate illicit income than, say, selling drugs or robbing a person or place at gunpoint.

“For its perpetrators, it is a low risk, highly profitable endeavor believed to be one of the fastest growing crimes on a global basis,” according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Canada’s current laws are fairly broad, prohibiting trafficking in persons “for any exploitative purpose, regardless of whether the trafficking occurs wholly within Canada or whether it involves the bringing of persons into Canada.”

A Canadian initiative launched in 2016, Project PROTECT, has also shed light and added a greater understanding of the true scope of human trafficking throughout the region.

The project, a partnership between Canadian banks, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac), the country’s financial intelligence unit, and law enforcement, has supported the “identification and reporting to law enforcement of financial transactions that are suspected of being related to the laundering of illicit proceeds associated with human trafficking for sexual exploitation.”

That partnership, training and a greater sensitivity by bank staff at all levels is also yielding more financial data to investigators, according to the report.

The volume of suspicious transaction reports provided by financial institutions to Fintrac related to Project PROTECT has “significantly increased every year, and has resulted in more financial intelligence disclosures by FINTRAC to domestic and international law enforcement agencies.”

This financial intelligence is of great usefulness to law enforcement in their investigations of money laundering and human trafficking.

So much so, in fact, that in the past three years, the numbers of suspicious transactions banks have sent to Fintrac related to human trafficking have soared from 26 to 143, according to the report.

Difficult to profile

One very frustrating finding in the report is that, unfortunately, finding a set profile for the rank and file human trafficking is difficult because they can be almost anyone.

Human and labor traffickers “can be men and women, intimate partners, complete strangers to the victims, criminal organizations, business owners, peers, family members, diplomats, farm owners, factory operators, large or small companies, or gangs,” according to the report.

In tandem, victims can originated from all over the map, with the report citing nearly a dozen countries, including men and women from China, Ethiopia, Hungary, Romania, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland and Thailand.

Domestic trafficking for sexual exploitation as well is “not necessarily associated with traffickers who may have connections to street gangs and organized crime,” the report stated. “Victims are often recruited by those they consider their romantic partners.”

ACFCS has a ton of content on human trafficking, including dozens of stories, hours of webinars and the topic is covered in many of our online, interactive training products.

Here are further resources for you to check out:

More U.S., U.K. banks harnessing technologies, changing tactics to identify human trafficking

Financial Crime Wave – Nearly 350 saved in human trafficking bust, social media for AML, and more

Sun, sand and sin: South Florida a burgeoning haven for human trafficking groups, victims

FinCEN human trafficking guidance could present challenges for institutions

Arrest of Backpage CEO may spur proactive ‘lookbacks’ at banks, more categorical de-risking