On June 6, 2012, the federal government launched its long-awaited national action plan to combat human trafficking. Organizations including the Canadian Police Association, Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, various victim services providers, policy and advocacy NGOs, and academics have been calling on the government to put a national plan in place for years. Creating a national action plan has been long-sought for its potential to provide coordinated, consistent action and service across Canada, and to improve our country’s overall response to human trafficking both within our territory and abroad. While the national action plan rolled out this month by the federal government takes important steps in creating high-level priorities and allocating funding across the country, more work will be needed to ensure commitments are met and priorities are translated into concrete action.
The national action plan is divided into four high-level categories based on the international framework to combat human trafficking: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership (the “4 Ps”). Many of the highlighted initiatives under each of the 4 Ps look more like high-level policy recommendations than concrete actions. However, the initiatives and overall report do indicate a commitment to address human trafficking from the federal level, and establish priorities in enhancing the Canadian response. Particularly noteworthy is the continued commitment to training of all actors involved in human trafficking cases, including not only police, but front-line service providers, prosecutors, and judges.
The action plan places notable emphasis on the crime-fighting aspects of human trafficking, allocating significant funding to the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC), and creating a mandate for specialized investigative forces comprised of RCMP, local police and CBSA. Given the difficulties seen with respect to investigations to date in Canada, the creation of specialized task forces was previously recommended given the success of similar models in the United States. This task force in Canada will aim to carry out more proactive investigations and could significantly improve information sharing amongst the various actors often involved in human trafficking investigations. Further, the RCMP HTNCC has undertaken significant efforts on awareness and education, training, and information gathering from across the country; continued funding of the HTNCC as a central figure in promoting the priorities and initiatives needed to combat this crime is therefore a positive sign.
However, the crime-fighting focus of the plan has unfortunately detracted from bringing greater attention to other significant issues identified in Canada’s response to human trafficking to date, most notably, victim services. Most provinces across the country do not yet have a coordinated response model, leaving victims to cope with the provision of ad-hoc services not always suited to their needs. For example, appropriate shelter is often cited as a concern for trafficking victims, as well as access to legal and aid programs for international victims. Although the national action plan allocates funding to enhance victim services, it does not call for a coordinated response model to be developed in the provinces, or provide recommendations on how provinces can enhance victim services. Yet, the need for coordinated services and a victim-centric response model are often cited as critical improvements needed to improve the response to human trafficking across Canada.
Overall, the development and launch of a national action plan is an important step in addressing human trafficking in Canada, however, the response set out in this plan suffers from a lack of strong commitment to a victim-centered approach, focusing greater attention and funding on “crime fighting” initiatives. While Canada’s vast landscape and federalism divisions can pose challenges for the federal government to take strong leadership on this issue, more is needed to be done to provide guidance to individual provinces and regions in enhancing the response, particularly from a victim-centered approach. While the federal government has certainly sought to tackle some serious issues through the national action plan – such as increased training for prosecutors and judges – more attention must be paid to ensuring the safety and well-being of victims of human trafficking. Although much of the national action plan will require diligent follow-up work to translate the high-level initiatives into concrete action, the priorities set in the national action plan can provide guidance to enhance the Canadian response to human trafficking, both on our own territory and abroad.