The federal government unveiled today a national plan to fight human trafficking, calling it a modern-day version of slavery.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose announced the four-pillar plan in Ottawa, including enhanced training for police, border agents and other front-line workers, intelligence collection and Canada's first integrated law enforcement team combining the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency.

That team will work to identify, disrupt and prosecute human traffickers in Canada, Toews said.

"They will be targeted and held accountable for their crime."

A big part of the plan is about raising awareness, both for law enforcement and prosecutors, but also for Canadians. Toews said trafficking and forced labour happens in seemingly legitimate businesses, so Canadians have to learn to recognize it.

The plan also involves sharing information, collecting data and other research. It's not known how many people are trafficked in Canada.

Toews also called on provincial and territorial governments to commit money for victims services.

Toews said the government is putting $25 million over four years into the plan.

First Nations women vulnerable

Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, Ambrose said, with traffickers using physical, emotional and sexual abuse to keep victims under control.

"We know Canada is a source, transit and destination country for victims of trafficking," she said, pointing to 23 convictions for human trafficking in Canada, with another 59 cases before the courts involving 98 accused and 147 victims.

The vast majority of cases — 98 per cent — are women and girls, Ambrose said. Girls are often recruited and forced into slavery by boyfriends. Aboriginal women and girls are particularly vulnerable, along with other economically disadvantaged groups.

"We must stand up to this evil in our communities," Ambrose said.

Parliamentarians have turned their attention to human trafficking in recent years, passing Conservative MP Joy Smith's Bill C-268 in 2009 to create a minimum sentence of five years for offences involving child trafficking.

Smith has a new private member's bill, C-310, that would let Canada prosecute Canadian citizens and permanent residents for human trafficking offences outside the country. That's important, she said, because often traffickers work in countries without strong judicial systems.

The bill will also define exploitation and human trafficking explicitly, she said, to give the courts extra tools.

International development organization World Vision says it's critical a national plan address the international aspects of human trafficking, which crosses borders, as well as the labour side. For every person trafficked in the sex trade, nine are trafficked for labour, World Vision says.