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A female traveller holding a suitcase looks up at an airport flight information board.

RCMP offers training to track human traffickers

The signs of human trafficking are not always obvious. So the RCMP is training officers and others at Edmonton International Airport to recognize and respond to the crime. Credit: RCMP


The RCMP in Alberta have stepped up their fight against human traffickers by training hundreds in law enforcement and other sectors at Edmonton International Airport to identify potential suspects and victims.

"Human trafficking happens across Canada and traffickers move their victims to avoid detection and to make as much money as they can," says Cst. Kristin Appleton, a member of the missing persons unit at the Alberta RCMP's serious crimes branch. "This is why training is crucial."

Human trafficking is the exploitation of people through force, threat, fraud or deception.

Despite Ottawa outlawing human trafficking in 2005, criminals continue to exploit thousands of vulnerable people across Canada.

Appleton says while the majority of victims are trafficked for sexual purposes, such as prostitution, illicit massage and pornography, people are also exploited for their labour.

Appleton designed the new training program, which began in January, in partnership with The Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta.

It teaches law enforcement officers, such as RCMP, CBSA, and U.S. customs officials, and airport staff and workers in support industries to recognize human-trafficking activity.

Cst. Morroco Johnson, who works at the RCMP detachment based at the airport, says the training will help officers identify suspected trafficking victims.

"When you talk to some of these people at the gate, there's not a lot of honest conversation," says Johnson. "But it's hard. You can't just go up to someone and ask 'are you being trafficked against your will?' You have to establish a rapport and some trust."

Johnson says the training has inspired her to look for opportunities to approach people who she suspects are victims of trafficking.

"But first, you have to know the signs," she says.

Appleton says some of those include: improper luggage, someone being unaware of their location and looking scared.

"One of the tell-all signs is when people say they're staying for a week or two, but are only carrying a small bag. They don't know where they are and they seem a little nervous," says Appleton.

She adds that having a conversation with someone who you suspect is being trafficked can also reveal a lot of information.

"It's like they're giving a rehearsed speech that doesn't provide any details," says Appleton. "They'll say they're going to see friends, but they don't provide any details about where these friends live or what they do. Then we'll start to get concerned."

Cst. Andre Tran works with the RCMP Federal Policing Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) based at the Edmonton International Airport.

"No one should be forced into this type of life, manipulated emotionally, or any other way into doing something they don't want to," says Tran.

A similar type of training was provided to businesses whose employees support airport users, such as hotels, restaurants and car rental agencies.

"It made people realize this type of thing can be happening in their backyard," says Tran. "And we're encouraging them, if they see any signs, and their gut says something isn't right, to call us. And to not think they're bothering us."

Some other indicators of human trafficking include:

  • being unaware of local surroundings;
  • not being able to move or leave a job;
  • having tattooing/branding to indicate ownership;
  • being afraid;
  • being frequently accompanied by their trafficker;
  • not speaking on their own behalf;
  • children giving far too mature answers.
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