Human Trafficking

As Catholics we are bound to inform ourselves concerning social developments, particularly those of civic interest, and to consider them in light of the Church’s social doctrine.

This month we consider legislation intended to strengthen Canada’s response to the scourge of human trafficking, by (i) creating reporting requirements for businesses marketing goods made by forced labour, (ii) enabling the Border Services Agency to deny entry to goods identified with forced labour, and (iii) creating new offenses covering those who traffic in human organs.

Governments and the Church alike recognize new forms of the ancient evil of using human beings as property. 

Human Trafficking

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bill S-211 – To enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff

  • Introduced by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne on November 24, 2021.  Not yet introduced in Commons. 
  • The summary states that the Act is intended honor Canada’s commitment to the war on human trafficking by (a) imposing obligations on various government institutions and private-sector entities to report on measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used by them or in their supply chains and (b) providing an inspection regime applicable to businesses and other entities; and (c) prohibiting the importation of goods manufactured or produced by forced labour or child labour as those terms are defined in the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act.
  • No Charter Statement has been published, as this is a private bill.

    Bill S-223 – An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs)
  • Introduced by Senator Salma Ataullahjan on November 24, 2021.  Passed in the Senate and awaiting second reading in Commons. 
  • The Act would amend the Criminal Code to create new offences in relation to trafficking in human organs.  Importantly, it extends criminal liability to Canadian citizens and permanent residents who traffic in human organs, even when they do so outside Canada.

    It also proposes amendment of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to provide that a permanent resident or foreign national is inadmissible to Canada if the appropriate minister is of the opinion that they have engaged in any activities relating to trafficking in human organs.

Provincial legislation on Human Trafficking — Ontario, Combating Human Trafficking Act, June 1st, 2021

  • The new legislation includes two new acts – theAnti-Human Trafficking Strategy Act, 2021and the Accommodation Sector Registration of Guests Act, 2021 – as well as amendments to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 and the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act, 2017. Together, the acts build on the government’s response to combat human trafficking by:
  • Increasing awareness of the issue, supporting a long-term provincial response and emphasizing that all Ontarians have a role to play in combatting human trafficking;
  • Supporting more survivors and the people who support them in obtaining restraining orders against traffickers, with specific consideration for Indigenous survivors;
  • Strengthening the ability of children’s aid societies and law enforcement to protect exploited children;
  • Increasing penalties for persons, including traffickers, who interfere with a child in the care of a children’s aid society; and,
  • Clarifying how and when police services can access information from hotel guest registers to help deter trafficking and identify and locate victims, while establishing the power to include other types of accommodation providers, such as short-term rental companies.

Catholic Social Teaching

Like all other social initiatives, proposals for the battle against trafficking in humans should be considered in light of the full range of the Church’s social doctrine, including particularly the fundamental values of truth, freedom, justice, and charitable love; the principles of life and human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity; and Christian virtues such as wisdom, humility, prudence, and good stewardship.

It seems clear that trafficking is primarily an affront  to the principles of human dignity, the common good, and solidarity, and the values of freedom, justice and charitable love.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church notes that the worldwide, “solemn proclamation of human rights is contradicted by a painful reality of violations, wars and violence of every kind, in the first place; genocides and mass deportations, the spreading on a virtual worldwide dimension of ever new forms of slavery such as trafficking in human beings, child soldiers, the exploitation of workers, illegal drug trafficking, prostitution.” (158)

“The rights of children,” the Compendium continues, must also be legally protected.  “The situation of a vast number of the world’s children is far from being satisfactory, due to… the lack of health care, or adequate food supply, little or no possibility of receiving a minimum of academic formation or inadequate shelter. Moreover, some serious problems remain unsolved: trafficking in children, child labour, the phenomenon of “street children”, the use of children in armed conflicts, child marriage, the use of children for commerce in pornographic material, also in the use of the most modern and sophisticated instruments of social communication… These are criminal acts that must be effectively fought with adequate preventive and penal measures by the determined action of the different authorities involved.” (244-245)

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops recently published a pastoral letter on the issue of human trafficking in Canada. In it, they write that “Buying sex is the most common reason for trafficking human persons. In such transactions, one person provides a tangible item or good (e.g., drugs, money) in exchange for sexual services from another person. The buyer is both directly (by violating the person’s body) and indirectly (by financially supporting the system holding that person in bondage) responsible for the harm done to the prostituted person… The most common factors involved with entry into prostitution include being poor, being female, having experienced violence and/or neglect, and having a low level of education. According to the Canadian Federal Government’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2019- 2024, ‘Individuals at greatest risk of victimization in Canada generally include women and girls and members of vulnerable or marginalized groups such as: Indigenous women and girls, migrants and new immigrants; LGBTQ2 persons; persons living with disabilities; children in the child welfare system; at risk youth and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged.’

Pope Francis has described human trafficking as a “crime against humanity,” because it denies the human dignity of the victim, seeing him or her only as a piece of merchandise to be used to enrich or give pleasure to another.  “In its multiple forms,” the Holy Father said, human trafficking “is a wound in the humanity of those who endure it and those who commit it… trafficking is an unjustifiable violation of the victims’ freedom and dignity, which are integral dimensions of the human person willed and created by God. This is why it must be considered, without a doubt, a crime against humanity.” (NCR, April 11, 2019)

In 2014, Pope Francis established an annual International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, to coincide with the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, patron of trafficking victims.  He was motivated, in part, by estimates that human trafficking is a $150 billion annual business supported by profits generated at the expense of 25 million victims worldwide.  (Catholic News Agency, February 8 2022).

Points to Ponder

Consider discussing the following questions with your local candidates, elected officials, and the parties, and with your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow parishioners.  On prayerful reflection, consider sharing your conclusions with your elected representatives by writing respectful and informative letters.

  • February 22nd is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Canada.  How might we, as individuals and nations, use the day to improve our understanding of the causes, evils, and solutions for human trafficking?
  • Are you able to recognize the signs of trafficking? Would you like to stay informed on the topic, and become active in fighting it? The Collaborative Network to End Exploitation is active in education, advocacy, and action.  Learn more, and get involved, at
  • All national political parties have called for continued commitment to the fight against trafficking.  What more, if anything, could be done to fight this evil? In their recent pastoral letter, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops writes that “Exiting prostitution is a complex process that most often takes numerous attempts and several years to achieve. Some women might never get out of prostitution. Research by Melissa Farley revealed that of 854 prostituted persons from 9 countries, including Canada, 89% of the women wanted to escape prostitution but were forced to remain because they had no other option for survival. Only a small percentage are fortunate enough to be able to exit… Many barriers to exiting need to be addressed in the healing process. Some obstacles include lack of safe housing, poor employment histories, physical and mental health issues, low educational levels, financial instability, and age of entry. There is a correlation between the age of entry and the number of barriers experienced in attempting to exit. Those who enter prostitution as children encounter a greater number of barriers than those who entered as adults. A key component in any process of exiting is returning the power for decision making back to the survivors, so that they can recover their self-determination.” What can different sectors of society—the Church, the government, local communities, the private sector, or the wider non-profit or charitable sector—do to support those who want to escape situations of human trafficking? What can we personally do to help?


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