Human trafficking is taking place in Canada and beyond and lawyers can have a crucial role in stopping it.
“We’re trying to get to audiences who are the people at the front lines of this,” says Laurie Tannous, a trade and immigration lawyer and special adviser to the University of Windsor’s Cross Border Institute, where she leads its human trafficking initiative.
Tannous is working to connect with lawyers and law enforcement professionals to raise awareness of trafficking. People are being brought into Canada both legally and illegally, she says, and then forced into exploitative work against their will.
She says research done by the institute over the past year indicates that “people don’t really know how prevalent human trafficking is both in the terms of sexual exploitation and labour exploitation.”
For example, she says Toronto is the largest hub of human trafficking in Canada.
“What we’re learning is that between Michigan and Toronto, that corridor is one that is highly travelled in moving, smuggling people back and forth across those borders,” says Tannous, who is also part of the Department of Homeland Security’s human trafficking task force in Michigan and has experience with the Canada Border Services Agency.
Lawyers in Canada have a key role, she says, in serving as the “eyes and ears” to identify potential trafficking.
That’s why Tannous would like to see more training for law enforcement and lawyers who work in different practice areas, from immigration to corporate law.
In immigration, for example, Tannous says there might be clients who tell a lawyer they’re trying to bring a potential spouse into Canada through legal channels but, in fact, plan to exploit that person once they arrive.
“Every single time I had a case in front of me as an immigration lawyer, I was always [asking myself], ‘Is this document that this person is putting in front of me, is it true? Is it correct?’” she says.
Tannous says lawyers should be attuned to inconsistencies in documents or interviews clients provide to them. If they have information that is problematic, she urges lawyers to share that information with the authorities.
“So the problem is you have solicitor-client privilege . . . and so you’re crossing a fine line there in terms of not being able to reveal anything that was told to you and put in the vault, but at the same time, if you do think that there is human trafficking, that is criminal activity and I believe it’s incumbent on you to talk to law enforcement, your local police, your local [Ontario Provincial Police detachment], and say, ‘Hey, I think there’s something going on here that I’m just not comfortable with,’” she says, adding people can also approach Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Work by lawyers to counter human trafficking can manifest in different ways, says Kevin Coon, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie LLP’s Toronto office and an international human rights lawyer.
“Part of what I do is advise our corporate clients on a global basis as to managing human rights issues and labour rights issues, whether it be codes of conduct to dealing with [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] complaints or issues, the human rights issues that are found in the [North American Free Trade Agreement], in the bilateral trade agreements, etc.,” he says.
Coon says there is a “growing regulatory regime around reporting of forced labour or human trafficking issues.” He points to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act.
The Modern Slavery Act, for example, requires major companies to “prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organization.”
This includes “a statement of the steps the organization has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place” in its supply chains or in any part of the business.
The firms’ 2014 report “Managing Corporate Supply Chains: Challenges & Successes in the Fight to Combat Forced Labour and Human Trafficking” cites a statistic from the American Bar Association, the School of Politics and Global Studies, and the McCain Institute of Arizona State University, saying “54 per cent of Fortune 100 companies have policies targeting human trafficking and 68 per cent have a commitment to supply chain monitoring, with most using a mixture of internal and external monitoring methods.”
The report says: “While progress is being made, comprehensive solutions have yet to be discovered and failure to find them keeps corporate leaders up at night.
These start with increased and innovative supply chain transparency, monitoring, auditing, mapping, and information sharing between and among corporations and other societal institutions.”
Coon says he advises his clients on their “social licence to operate” around the world.
“You think back 15 years or even longer, it has evolved full circle, where the debate at the moment globally on the social licence to operate by businesses or others is around compliance with human rights,” says Coon.
Human rights are labour rights, he says, “whether it be forced labour or human trafficking — which tend to be high on the agenda — but also issues like freedom of association, discrimination . . . the core labour standards that are some of the fundamental human rights.”
For Tannous, who’s seen the fallout of such cases, further awareness of trafficking issues is needed in Canada. She says she’s had to “clean up a lot of cases” of women brought into the country and exploited after their arrival.
“It’s something that no one is talking about. I think everyone’s afraid to talk about it . . . but I just think we’re humans and we should have some ethical approach in our practices,” says Tannous.