National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

On February 22, 2007, the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion condemning the trafficking of persons and proclaiming February 22nd as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. This day was designated to help bring awareness to the magnitude of modern-day slavery in Canada and abroad, and to encourage Canadians to take steps to combat human trafficking.

Human trafficking (sex, labour, and organ trafficking) involves recruiting, transporting, harbouring, or receiving a person, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of exploitation. In the case of minors, any commercial sex act is trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is involved. Exploitation can occur without trafficking.

Sex and labour have been identified as the largest forms of trafficking in Canada.

Meet Julia Drydyk

Julia Drydyk is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. Julia began her journey at The Centre as the Manager of Research and Policy, where she studied human trafficking trends in Canada. In 2020, Julia assumed the position of Director of the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, a critical 24/7 service offered by The Centre. The Hotline offers immediate assistance to trafficking victims and survivors, facilitating connections with essential social services, receiving and reporting tips, and informing vital human trafficking trends and policy decisions.

In the latest edition of CHV’s Under One Roof podcast, Julia shares what she’s learned about human trafficking to help raise awareness, and ideally help put an end to it.

Prior to her work at The Centre, Julia spent 15 years working on issues around poverty reduction, community development, and healthcare issues. “I’d always been focused on the intersection of where our public systems are failing people and tried to create a more equitable, fair, and prosperous country for all Canadians. I was attracted to working on the issue of human trafficking, because human trafficking exists exactly on the periphery of where those systems are failing people.”

Who is most vulnerable? Julia explains:

“The legacy of colonialism has had an incredibly devastating impact on a lot of Indigenous communities through residential schools and through murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. We also know that racialized communities also deal with other systemic barriers around housing and employment. We also see that 2SLGBTQAI+ communities are also overrepresented in experiencing human trafficking.”

For labour trafficking, it’s a little different. “Folks are coming into Canada legally through temporary foreign worker permits. The issue is that we actually have closed work permits, meaning that those workers, in order to stay in Canada, need to stay with their employer. They don’t have the rights to move employers, even if they’re being used or treated badly. And so abusive employers will then often threaten them, sometimes even without any cause. They don’t have the authority to do this, but they will threaten the workers with deportation or telling them that they will get in trouble with the Canadian authorities. So, it’s actually the lack of being able to move which is making exploitation more prevalent in terms of labour trafficking, at a systemic level.”


Julia mentioned that the term human trafficking does not resonate with many people who are being exploited or trafficked. “For people that are experiencing sexual exploitation and trafficking, the trafficker is not someone that kidnapped them off the street or is forcibly confining them. The trafficker is often a boyfriend, a friend, and sometimes it’s even a family member.” She says that the term is often not relatable to those experiencing labour trafficking, due to language barriers.

Individuals may initially feel that they have consented, but exploitation is a crime, not a choice. Julia explains:

Julia said that journalists often ask her why the victim doesn’t just leave the situation. “A lot of folks that are experiencing trafficking are completely dependent on their trafficker. By the time they’re being exploited, they’ve been isolated from their family and friends. All of their basic needs are being met by their trafficker, and at this point they have no other income source. So, it’s really far more nuanced than I think most Canadians understand.”

Research done by The Centre found that:

  • 97% of Canadians felt like we all have a duty to protect, especially our youth, from sex trafficking
  • Only 15% of Canadians feel like they have enough information to even start a conversation
  • 70% of Canadians have never actually had a conversation because they don’t feel like they know enough to be able to
  • 95% of Canadians all think that we need more tools to be able to have these conversations

In addition, there’s a real inconsistency as to how provinces are dealing with trafficking. A handful have strategies in place, but many have no strategy or legislation in place. Resources are also very piecemeal when it comes to education, awareness, prevention, and specialized law enforcement and service delivery partners. Funding in this area is also not consistent and not necessarily evidence based.

Traffickers are using the systemic holes to move themselves and those trafficked to areas where there is less attention to this crime.

“In 2020, we released research on human trafficking corridors in Canada, where we found, unfortunately, that where you’ve got a highway, you’ve got a human trafficking corridor, that traffickers are moving victims around systematically in some ways, to also avoid law enforcement.”

When is the most dangerous time for someone who is being trafficked? Julia explains:

Get Involved by Getting Informed

“I think the one thing that everyone can do is to try and learn more about the realities in Canada and to educate themselves on the issue. We are partnered with over 1,000 frontline service delivery partners across Canada, Covenant House included. These programs provide over 3,000 individual programs and services as well. Many are not human trafficking focused, but at least we can try and connect people with resources that they need in their community. It really is about taking that person-centred, one-on-one approach.”

If you are in immediate danger, or see someone who is, call 9-1-1.

The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is a tool for learning about and reporting human trafficking. You can call the Hotline 24/7, 365 days a year at1-833-900-1010. The Hotline is completely confidential and you can remain anonymous if you wish.

The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline information audio:

The Centre has just released It’s Time to T.A.L.K. digital toolkit that addresses sex trafficking. The acronym T.A.L.K. stands for: T — teach yourself about the issue; A — approach the conversation with care; L — listen and adapt; and K — know there is help.

Covenant House Vancouver has also released its digital toolkit, intended for service providers in youth-serving organizations. Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking is intended to be used in learning about human trafficking and evidence-based best practices for supporting youth within the current Canadian landscape.