Archive for October, 2010

Migration and Human Trafficking

October 29, 2010

Human trafficking is the sale and purchase of individuals either in whole or in part, the latter for those human organs that have a commercial value. Referred to as the modern form of slavery, human trafficking can occur as indentured labour or debt bondage. In both cases, the individual has contracted for the use of their person so that their actions are restricted far more so than when wages are paid for regular employment. Human trafficking can involve a domestic or international transaction or a combination of both, as occurs when individuals are brought to Canada to work under conditions where their freedom is limited.

Human trafficking has some similarities with illegal trafficking for drugs and liquor. A comparison illustrates how policies address the issues involved. All three activities are or have been prohibited but only under certain conditions. Because this creates a series of markets for the same product, opportunities arise to exploit the differences.

For example, during prohibition in the US from 1920 to 1933, alcohol could be sold legally with a prescription leading pharmacists like Walgren to expand their operations, as buyers used prescription sales to substitute for liquor previously bought through stores, bars and restaurants. At the same time, illegal breweries and distilleries sprung up to satisfy the demand, and liquor was imported illegally from Canada and other countries. St Pierre and Miquelon were transshipment points for liquor coming from Europe.

Liquor prohibition in Canada varied by province, with PEI enacting it in 1901, Alberta and Ontario in 1918 and Quebec in 1919. Policies related to consumption, production and selling of liquor. Ontario, for example, banned domestic sale and consumption but allowed production and export of alcohol which gave producers opportunities to sell to the US. Legislation resulted in reducing consumption but it tended to destroy society by other means. It stimulated the growth of organized and widespread criminal activity in the underground economy, a topic for numerous books, movies and television programs.

When prohibition ended, liquor consumption increased but related criminal activity declined. The same is now argued for marijuana entering North America mainly from Mexico and South America. If a (November 2010) California referendum legalizes the use of marijuana, one effect will be to undermine the criminal activity and gang warfare that occurs along the US-Mexico border. Regulating as opposed to banning the activity will not eliminate drug use, but it will result in revenues being collected by the government as opposed to criminal gangs. As it is, marijuana is available with a medical prescription in the same way that alcohol was during prohibition.

So far governments have abolished liquor prohibition, and there is pressure to legalize the distribution of certain drugs. What about human trafficking? Here the conditions are somewhat different. There is no lobby to legalize human trafficking. With liquor and drugs, the items traded are inanimate objects, which when consumed satisfy the needs of the user. One can impound and destroy the objects if found and prosecute those who engage in the illegal trade. For human trafficking it is persons that are being traded for the services which they provide often for prostitution or for other types of work such as harvesting agricultural products.

In the case of trafficking for prostitution there are two types of possible illegality, first for trafficking and second for prostitution. Human trafficking is universally banned but often hard to detect. In 2000, in Palermo, Italy, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Prostitution is treated in various ways in individual countries. Some countries like Canada do not ban prostitution but create conditions that make it difficult for the practice to flourish like banning soliciting. Australia permits prostitution to take place under regulated conditions. Sweden bans prostitution and prosecutes those who buy the services of prostitutes.

Human trafficking can be a purely domestic activity but frequently is associated with persons who enter the country and may be difficult to identify. Foreigners entering Canada as tourists, temporary foreign workers, students and as permanent residents including refugees can be involved in trafficking arrangements. Screening applicants is a difficult process but the police know where to look.

These illegal activities can be consumed domestically from domestic or imported products, or consumers can travel abroad to consume them in countries where prohibitions are lax or do not exist, thus sex tourism in South East Asia. While it is naïve to expect to alter a business as old as prostitution, it is worthwhile to consider ways to reduce human trafficking, a form of slavery that is universally condemned except by those who profit from it. Here Canada should examine its immigration and refugee process to learn how and when trafficking occurs. Benjamin Perrin’s recently published Invisible Chains, Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin 2010), provides a starting point for this examination.


Human Trafficking in Canada

October 23, 2010

Mention of slavery conjures up the North Atlantic slave trade, especially the slaves, shipowners, and those who bought and profited from the trade. Discussion then moves to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and slavery later on. History books reveal less about other aspects such as where else in the world slavery occurred, where slaves came from and who profited as suppliers as opposed to buyers of slaves. For example, Zanzibar on Africa’s east coast developed as a port for the transshipment of slaves from Africa to Persia and the Indian subcontinent.

The fact is that slavery has never been and probably never will be abolished. The contours of slavery today seldom make headlines. It is left to the actions of dedicated researchers and NGO’s with some assistance from governments and international organizations to focus attention on modern day slavery.

Benjamin Perrin has done this in his recently published Invisible Chains, Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin 2010). A law professor at UBC, Perrin reminds us that slavery is never abolished, but often morphs into different ways of achieving similar ends.

Indentured labour and debt bondage are two current forms of slavery that flourish throughout the world. Prostituting women and children, mainly girls, can be lucrative forms of commerce in developed as well as developing countries. Perrin carefully documents how human trafficking occurs in Canada and provides us with a wake-up call, especially as slavery can take place in our own neighbourhoods. He ends with a quotation by William Wilberforce in a speech to the British parliament, May 12, 1789 calling for the abolition of slavery “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.” The same can be said for those who read Invisible Chains.

As with any activity that is illegal and flourishes in the underground economy, the numbers of trafficked persons are rough estimates. There is often confusion as to whether the numbers relate to the stock or annual flow of enslaved persons. An oft quoted figure is that there are between 12 and 27 million people enslaved in the world. A report of 600,000 to 800,000 persons trafficked internationally, and 17,500 trafficked into the US are probably annual flow figures compared to the estimated stock of 27 million. Another study states,

“According to UN estimates, about 2.5 million people from 127 countries have been trafficked to 137 countries for purposes such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, the removal of organs and body parts, forced marriages, child adoption and begging.”

Again what period the 2.5 million refers to is unclear, but what is apparent is that trafficking is an active business which for some is very profitable, while leading to enslavement and possibly death for the victims.

Invisible Chains has a Canadian focus. It includes actual cases of children and others trafficked for prostitution, how the business is conducted in Canada and measures taken here and abroad to address the situation. It concludes with proposals for an action plan. There are many, with the list identifying the pressure points where action may be effective and who might initiate it. This is not to say that there are no groups already actively involved, but they are dispersed and results will only occur if someone takes the lead and provides a focus. Human trafficking is not a problem with an obvious and quick solution, but uncoordinated efforts may retard progress.

Issues to examine in Canada include the dysfunctional asylum-refugee process which is used by traffickers to bring in potential victims. For example, it should be possible to monitor those who arrive at Canadian ports of entry asking for asylum, including what happens to the adults and children who arrived in British Columbia by boat this summer. The announcement by the government on October 22, 2010 to introduce the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act is an initiative to address problems with the refugee process which involves human trafficking.

Understandably most of the public attention is placed on the victims. It is inconceivable to many that in some instances parents would deliberately sell their children into prostitution as a way of supporting their families. But this occurs and forces us to examine economic conditions in other parts of the world. Closer to home Perrin documents the cases of girls from aboriginal families that are engaged in child prostitution.

Invisible Chains draws attention to those who profit from the trade. This requires a review of both the supply and demand for the services being provided and where in the supply chain pressure can be exerted. Differences arise according to the type of services, prostitution versus general labour in industries such as agriculture, construction and homecare.

Take prostitution which is legal and regulated in some countries. Demand originates with clients willing to pay for the services. Supply is organized by those who manage to kidnap, coerce or cajole persons to provide it. Suppliers advertise listed under escort services in the yellow pages and on the internet where social networking sites like Facebook and Craigslist provide low cost means of advertising. The number of entries in the yellow pages has shrunk as greater use is made of the internet. The venues for supplying the services may be clubs, cars, apartments and hotel rooms. Customers are members of the public whose reputations would be adversely affected if their actions were publicized.

These links in the supply chain are recognized in the development of public policy. While Invisible Chains provides a wealth of information about human trafficking both in Canada and abroad, one area of particular interest is the comparative policy approach pursued in Belgium, Italy, US, Sweden and Australia.

Most of these countries focus on two concerns, providing assistance to the victims and fighting against human trafficking. While some punish those who provide sex, Sweden criminalizes those who purchase it. This can extend to sanctioning acts undertaken abroad where sex is bought in vacation locations. Australia legalizes prostitution while regulating it. For example it is an offense for people to be sold for sex if they have a sexually transmitted disease. No similar sanction applies to the purchaser. Some human trafficking still occurs in Australia because part of the industry operates in the underground economy.

Invisible Chains provides an excellent survey of human trafficking with emphasis on Canada as well as providing references to source materials.

Canada’s Asylum-Refugee Process 2010

October 20, 2010

It is well recognized that there are serious problems with the administration of Canada’s asylum-refugees process. In addition to think-tanks and academics, the Auditor General has documented problems in the screening process. CIC reports that,
“It generally takes 4.5 years from the time an asylum claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. In some extreme cases, this can take 10 years or more. Multiple post-claim appeals are available to failed claimants, leading to delays in removal from Canada.”

Research by Stephen Gallagher and Martin Collacott has documented the situation up to 2002-2003. Canada’s acceptance rate for asylum claimants in 2003 was 49.6% compared to the 16.6% average for 18 major developed countries .


The remainder of this blog reports on what the published data show since 2003, but first a word about data sources and concepts used. Country data are published by CIC for Canada and by the OECD and UNHCR for a range of countries including Canada. An asylum seeker is a person who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. At any point in time, such as December 31st, 2009, there is a stock of people whose claims are outstanding. This stock will have accumulated from an inflow of persons during 2009 and from previous years so that the stock is larger than the annual inflow. Some sources publish stock and some flow data. Some asylum seekers make applications more than once in any one country and in more than one country, thus some data may include repeat applicants as opposed to new applicants. The various data sources yield similar if not identical information and source notes for data can usually explain why differences occur.

Data 2005 – 2009

Source: UNHCR, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2009, (March 23, 2010). The UNHCR does not include information on asylum procedures or the admission of refugees through resettlement programs.

1. In 2009, there were 377,200 asylum applications in 44 European and non-European countries. The highest total in the past ten years was 620,000 in 2001.
2. Canada had a total of 33,250 claims in 2009 and 141,000 claims from 2005 to 2009
3. Canada’s share of the total was 9% in 2009 and 8% for 2005-09; it ranked third in 2009 and fourth from 2005-09. Among the top four recipient countries, Canada ranked highest in terms of asylum seekers per 1,000 of population.

Source: OECD International Migration Outlook 2010.

1. In 2009, claims by asylum seekers in OECD countries totaled 358,858 of which the top five countries accounted for 48%: France 41,980, USA 38,968, Canada 33,250, UK 29,840, and Germany 27,650.
Note: the total for the USA is about 10,000 higher in the OECD than in UNHCR totals for 2009 and previous years. The totals for other countries are approximately the same in both publications
2. Standardising for population size, Canada had 1,045 asylum seekers per one million people, France 568, Germany 337, and USA 130. (Norway, Sweden and Switzerland each with smaller populations have higher per capita figures than Canada.)


According to the UNHCR, in 2009, there were 61,170 asylum seekers in Canada. This represents the cumulative total for whom claims have not been settled and include the 33,250 new claimants in 2009.

Canada continues to be seen as a preferred country for asylum seekers. The backlog of 60,000 applications and the current annual inflow of over 30,000 is a result of the ease with which applications can be made in Canada relative to other countries and the procedures used to process applications including the number of appeals that can be made. Passage of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in July 2010 and which will come into effect in 2011 aim at addressing some of these concerns.

What are some of the issues associated with the asylum-refuge process? On one hand, Canada is fulfilling humanitarian objectives by accepting asylum seekers as permanent residents who can then become citizens. However those who arrive at a maritime border or an airport will have invited themselves to Canada rather than being selected to become refugees as occurs with resettlement programs. Under a safe country agreement, arrivals at the US-Canada border will not be admitted and will be returned to the respective countries. This is similar to the practice in the EU and other countries.

Those who arrive in Canada uninvited by boat and at airports are queue jumping the refugee process. They may impose health and security problems and cost Canadian taxpayers money while their claims are processed. While health conditions can be checked, security is a problem. If persons arrive without papers, there is often difficulty in determining both the identity and background records of the claimant in a foreign country. Meanwhile there are costs to caring for the asylum seeker while awaiting a decision. These are estimated at C$3bn a year or C$50,000 per claimant (that would equate to the 60,000 asylum seekers that are presently waiting to be processed).This is just one of the costs of Canada’s malfunctioning asylum/refugee process.

The hidden costs are the criminal activities associated with illegal immigration which is partly fed by the asylum-refugee process and partly by those who have entered Canada legally but failed to leave when required to do so. The latter can be tourists, temporary foreign workers, foreign students and those issued with deportation orders.

The criminal activities that have a crossborder component include, amongst others, drug and human trafficking. These activities are commented on in the annual reports of the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada (a network of 400 law enforcement agencies across Canada). Human trafficking in Canada is the subject of Benjamin Perrin’s, Invisible Chains, Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking, Penguin 2010, the subject of a subsequent blog.

Immigration Policy – What is Canada trying to do?

October 6, 2010

Immigration policy is at the forefront of debate in the US, Australia, New Zealand and western European countries where members of anti-immigrant parties are receiving an increasing number of votes. The topic is likely to be debated in the next Canadian federal election.

Canadan immigration policy contains several objectives, such as for economic migrants, family members and refugees. These often compete with each other for a share of the current annual inflow of 250,000 persons, a factor often ignored in public discourse, where different parties lobby for one aspect only. Almost absent from discussion, except by the Population Institute of Canada, is the desired size of the total population, where immigration is a contributing factor.

The following argues that debate is needed on the future size of the Canadian population and how each of the components of immigration policy fits into this total. Discussion is also required on policy towards illegal immigrants.

Policy objectives

Selection for the annual inflow of approximately 250,000 permanent residents contains segments for economic and business persons, family members and refugees. A related policy deals with temporary workers and students. In addition, those entering Canada each year include tourists and temporary visitors. The total is about 30.5 million people a year, 30 million of which are tourists.

Each segment of newcomers has a specific purpose. Economic and business persons are chosen for the immediate contribution they can make to the Canadian economy. The selection criteria stress the attributes of education, language and skills training; these persons are likely to become active members of the labour force. They are accompanied by family members who may become employed at a later date.

The next segment, family members, represents relatives of those who have previously immigrated to Canada. Human rights considerations make family reunification a priority in Canada and other countries. For example, family related permanent residents to the US in 2006 accounted for 63% of total entrants. A problem for officials is verifying who is a family member and what relationships to include and exclude.

Refugees, the third segment, enter Canada as asylum seekers who become refugees once their application is approved. Again, humanitarian considerations underlie the basis for accepting refugees. Some are admitted by being sponsored by someone in Canada or by being referred by an international agency – details are available on the CIC website. Others appear at the border and request asylum. They enter a process that determines whether their application is approved and they become a refugee, or are rejected and must leave the country. Rejections can be appealed, and the process to a final decision has recently been expedited but does not come into effect until 2011. To-date the refugee process has been a lucrative industry for immigration lawyers and consultants.

The related policy of attracting temporary foreign workers is aimed at job vacancies that exist and are not being filled. The workers and their families return home at the completion of their contracts. Foreign students are also expected to return home after finishing their studies. In both these cases, provisions known as the Canadian Experience Class makes it easier for these two groups to apply for permanent residency without leaving Canada.

In sum, there are a range of objectives, some conflicting, associated with the intake of persons as permanent residents, temporary foreign residents and students. How does this play out in the debate on immigration policy?

The demographic deficit

One topic is the ageing Canadian population and declining birth rate that some argue can be corrected by immigration. The facts are as follows. First, there would be no population without immigration, including native Canadians who came to North America an estimated 30,000 years ago across a land bridge from Siberia. All Canadians are first, second, third or more generation immigrants.

Second, the contribution of current annual immigration inflows to the active labour force is small. Among the economic and business migrants, only the principal applicants are likely to have the education and training that will allow them to find immediate employment. Associated family members may enter the labour force at a later date. In 2008 for example, only 17% of those accepted as permanent residents were principal applicants in the economic category, that is those who were likely to find immediate employment. They would add 0.7% to the Canadian labour force.

A third factor is whether there are alternatives ways to deal with an ageing population and a declining share of the population in the workforce. Some countries have limited their population size by allowing in temporary workers who become a safety valve when there is a labour shortage. Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Switzerland are examples of this. Canada uses temporary foreign workers to meet the demand for agricultural, construction and home care workers, and many of the 12 million illegal migrants in the US act as temporary (and sometimes permanent) workers.

An alternative to importing workers is to outsource work. Obviously this cannot be done for homecare, nursing and services which have to be delivered on site, but modern communications allow many types of work to be undertaken outside a country. Other alternatives to alleviate labour shortages include substituting capital for labour and raising wage rates to attract people when there are labour shortages.

In the past, countries have experienced substantial population decreases and survived. As examples, Maoist, Stalinist and Nazi massacres killed millions of peoples in their respective countries. The population of Ireland decreased from an estimated 8.2million in 1841 to 4.5million in 1900 due to death and emigration. The global flu pandemic in 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people. And western European countries had high casualty rates among the military and civilian populations during both world wars. This is not to condone what happened but to show that countries have recovered from circumstances far worse than Canada faces today.

In sum, using immigration policy to address the age structure of the workforce in Canada fails to consider other influences that can affect the outcome.

Population size

A related aspect is how immigration affects the overall size of the population. Annual immigration inflows and outflows along with birth and death rates are the main determinants of the country’s population size. While there is little that can be done to influence birth rates, although governments may try with fiscal incentives and exhortation to promote or prevent procreation, and even less can be done about death rates in the short run, net immigration policy is the main lever to alter population size.
Overall population size is rarely debated. Since I arrived in Canada in 1955, the population has increased from about 15 million to 34 million today. Will it more than double again to around 70 million in the next 60 years? No-one knows but more importantly there is almost no discussion of what the target should be, or what role immigration should play. The closest public debate comes to this question is discussion over the demographic deficit.

Note also, immigration statistics measure gross not net immigration since those leaving the country permanently are not recorded. It is likely that the annual target of 250,000 permanent residents is not reached when outflows are counted. A search of “emigration from Canada” on the CIC website only brings up sites of emigration to Canada. Periodically, there are references to a brain drain from Canada and it is likely that more educated Canadians are the ones that leave, so that policies to retain educated Canadians may make sense. A further issue to consider is the handling of illegal or undocumented migrants.

Illegal immigrants

The number of illegals presently in Canada is for obvious reasons unknown. These persons, their employers and support groups are unlikely to identify them. The US has an estimated 12 million illegals. If Canada has ten percent of this figure it would be over a million; a former Minister of Immigration estimated 500,000.

How do they arrive? Some are persons who come as tourists, temporary foreign workers and students with visas where required, and fail to leave. Others arrive by land, sea and air and request asylum. These get a hearing. Some may be rejected outright, like those arriving at the Canadian-US border where both countries agree to take back all applicants from the other country. This is part of a safe country policy where applicants in general will have difficulty in being accepted if they come from what is considered a safe country.
The asylum seeker aims to reach a Canadian airport, land crossing or maritime border (a port or territorial waters). Canada is unable to stop ships outside territorial waters and once the ship is inside, persons can ask for asylum and must be treated the same way as if they had arrived at a land border and sought asylum.

Shipping persons into territorial waters is akin to smuggling but with the difference that once inside the persons can request asylum. The approximately 500 Tamils who arrived by boat in Canada in August 2010 is a fraction of those arriving at airports and seaports each year. Canada receives about 30,000 refugees claimants a year and accepts about 10,000.
Details of the Tamils’ journey and financing provide useful information for border officials. According to the Globe and Mail (August 28, 2010), their voyage was carefully planned. The asylum seekers travelled on tourist visas from Sri Lanka to Thailand where they boarded a boat which eventually arrived off the coast of BC. News reports suggest that these persons paid around $45,000 to make the trip. Further investigation is needed of how these voyages were financed. If paid for in advance, it means that the individuals were fairly well off. If financed, then the likelihood is that they will have to pay off the lenders in Canada or abroad, a situation which often leads to a form of indentured labour (a modern form of slavery) for the borrower. Boat arrivals are often accused of queue jumping, but this is the case for any asylum seeker that manages to reach Canada on their own without being sponsored.


Immigration is likely to be an issue in the next Canadian federal election. For skilled immigrants, Canada will have to compete with other countries. If the policy aims to increase the size of the active labour force (skilled workers), then family members and refugees are not much help. If humanitarian considerations are foremost then these two categories make sense. Overall population size in the future and the policy towards illegal immigrants also needs to be debated. If other countries clamp down on immigration, flows will go to places where legal and illegal entry is easier.