Mrs. Maria Mourani (Ahuntsic, BQ)
moved that Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, after a number of years of work and consultation, it is a great honour for me to introduce in the House Bill C-452, which seeks to help victims of human trafficking obtain justice in an environment in which they are better protected.
This bill also seeks to help the police officers and prosecutors who are working to combat this new form of slavery—let us say it—get the tools they need to lay charges and ensure that criminals are given sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.
I would like to thank the individuals and groups who worked with me to put this bill together, including police officers from the SPVM morality branch and child sexual exploitation unit, criminal lawyers from the Barreau du Québec and women's and human trafficking victims' advocacy groups, such as the Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale, Afeas, the Regroupement québécois des centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, Concertation-Femme, Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes and Maison de Marthe. These groups were very involved in the drafting of this bill.
I would also like to thank everyone else who has supported this bill, namely the Collectif de l'Outaouais contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the diocèse de l'Outaouais de la condition des femmes and, of course, the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec.
Before introducing the bill, I would like to quickly describe human trafficking in Canada. Unfortunately, it is a rather significant problem in Canada and also in Quebec.
There is no question that, in Canada, an estimated 80% to 90% of the victims of trafficking are destined for the sex trade. There are also victims exploited for forced labour in Canada. This is quite atypical, but it does exist nevertheless.
Canada is unfortunately considered to be a country of recruitment, destination and transit, transit to the United States in particular. The most popular cities are Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York and Las Vegas, as you can imagine. Canada is also considered a tourist destination: not just the usual tourism, but also sex tourism.
Contrary to what one might think, this sort of thing does not happen only in developing countries. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada indicates in its 2001 report that, in Canada, the average age of entry into prostitution is 14. In Canada, the majority of victims of trafficking are women between the ages of 12 and 25.
According to 2004 figures from the U.S. State Department, every year an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 persons are victims of trafficking from Canada to the United States. It is estimated that traffickers bring approximately 600 women and children into Canada to service the Canadian sex industry.
The main points of transit and destination for victims of interprovincial and international trafficking are Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The Sûreté du Québec estimates that 80% of the strip clubs in Quebec under its jurisdiction are owned by criminal groups, often under fronts. So this is an industry that is dominated by organized crime and, unfortunately, street gangs.
Girls recruited in Atlantic Canada can wind up in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, and vice versa. They are on the move. That is typical of human trafficking. Although this odious trade is dominated by organized crime, street gangs have become new players in recent years. The Montreal police service has declared human trafficking to be one of its priorities in the fight against crime.
It is thought that since the end of the 1990s, street gang members have transitioned from small-time recruiters to high-level pimps, specializing in child prostitution of young girls, mostly between the ages of 11 to 25. A girl can bring in around $280,000 a year, depending on her looks and age. Twenty girls could bring in around $6 million. That is a lot of money.
This is a business with little risk and is inexpensive to manage. Most of these guys say that they just have to beat, rape or torture the girl or give her some drugs and she will go to the meeting on her own. As it stands right now, the punishments are insignificant. For example, a pimp in Peel region exploited, tortured and raped a 15-year-old girl for two years. This earned him about $360,000 a year and he was sentenced to three years.
This bill would bring justice to the victims and make it easier for police officers and prosecutors. What does the bill do? Many prosecutors and police officers I spoke to told me that, in general, human trafficking was seen as an international phenomenon and that people were trafficked either from Canada to other countries or from other countries to Canada. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code is misinterpreted.
This misconception is gradually disappearing, but there are still some people who believe it. Young people from the regions of Quebec or from aboriginal reserves across Canada are unfortunately ending up in trafficking rings that bring them to large Canadian cities and tourist areas such as Niagara Falls or Montreal during the Grand Prix.
Domestic trafficking definitely happens in Canada. In my opinion, it accounts for a significant proportion of criminal activity in Canada. Victims of this type of human trafficking are between 14 and 25 years of age. The bill before us improves subsection 279.01(1) by making it clear that human trafficking is not only an international phenomenon, but also a domestic one. I have added the phrase, “Every person who, in a domestic or international context, recruits, transports...” This clarification will ensure that individuals, police officers and prosecutors understand exactly what that section means.
The current section 279.04 includes provisions on trafficking in organs and forced labour. As we all know, most human trafficking is for purposes of sexual exploitation, and as such, I added subsection 279.04(1.1), which is specifically about sexual exploitation. This definition, if I can call it that, is drawn from the Palermo protocol on human trafficking and international crime, which Canada ratified on May 13, 2002. This addition addresses all aspects of sexual exploitation, thereby enabling Canada to fulfill its Palermo protocol commitment.
On another note, human trafficking and procuring offences are often associated with other violent crimes. However, even when several charges are associated with a particular incident, traffickers often get away with short sentences because they are served concurrently. Unfortunately, sentences for human trafficking are softer than sentences for drug trafficking.
This is despite the fact that these people, whom I would call slavers, commit very serious crimes. Victims are tortured, confined, raped, forced into prostitution and so on. It is important to take all of the factors related to an incident into account. This bill would ensure that sentences for human trafficking or procuring and associated crimes are served consecutively.
The other problem that police officers and prosecutors have raised is their ability to help or persuade a victim to testify. Those practising in this area of the law often find that victims do not want to testify. Why? Because they are experiencing severe post-traumatic stress and are, quite naturally, afraid of being victimized. Many groups that work with these victims have told me that the victim should no longer have to bear the burden of proof.
Subsection 212(3) of the current Criminal Code already includes the notion of reversal of the burden of proof in cases of procuring. The same reversal of the burden of proof for the offence of trafficking was therefore added to this bill in subclause 279.01(3).
Therefore, as soon as the police have enough proof to lay charges, they will not necessarily need a victim's testimony. The reversal of the burden of proof exists for procuring. I believe that it should simply also be applied to human trafficking.
My favourite part of this bill deals with the forfeiture of proceeds of crime. Unfortunately, it is well known in the policing world that human trafficking is very profitable. It is profitable because a girl can bring in a lot of money for a pimp and it is highly unlikely that she will file a complaint against him. The pimp does not need to manage anything or make large purchases to run the business. So the pimp makes a lot of money.
Currently, subsection 462.37(2.02), which deals with forfeiture of proceeds of crime, allows for criminally obtained goods to be seized in cases of criminal organization offences punishable by five or more years of imprisonment and offences under section 5, 6 or 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I feel that human trafficking and procuring offences should also be covered by this section. This bill adds those two provisions to section 462.37.
To conclude, I would like to ask my colleagues to do something meaningful for victims of human trafficking. We need to remember that we do not need to go to Thailand to see children as young as 12, 13 or 14 in this business. And, unfortunately, we cannot forget that adults are victims of this business as well. The majority of the victims of this business—if we can call it that—are women, young girls and children. I feel it is more a form of slavery. I believe that we need to rise above partisan politics on this issue. It is our duty to strengthen the human trafficking provisions of the Criminal Code.
I would like to thank the members, and I ask them to support this bill in the name of justice and, above all, in the name of humanity.
Mrs. Maria Mourani:
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. Given that we often work together on the issue of human trafficking, I would like to congratulate her on what she has done to improve the Criminal Code regarding this matter.
If I understand the question correctly, how these people operate can vary greatly, depending on whether they belong to a street gang, are a member of organized crime, or are even independent traffickers who have absolutely nothing to do with any criminalized groups. They always manipulate the victim, often through modelling agencies. Sometimes they go and recruit the girls directly at night clubs or in schools, anywhere, really.
Things happen in stages. First there is the honeymoon period, when the criminal tells the victim that she will make lots of money, that he is there for her, that he loves her. She might even believe that her abuser is actually her boyfriend. It is very complicated. Then there is the breaking-in period, when she is beaten, raped by 15 men in a row in a seedy apartment. The abuser tortures her and takes away her ID. All of this happens not in some other country but right here in Canada. The victim is sexually assaulted. Her family is threatened and she is told that if she escapes, the abuser will get her little sister.
I have met many victims. People involved in these trafficking rings have told me their stories. I will never forget the car on its way from Montreal to Quebec City with a 12-year-old girl in the back seat and a 16-year-old girl in the front. Four years later, that 16-year-old, now 20, told me that she could hear the 12-year-old crying in the back because they were on their way to Quebec City to live in a seedy duplex where criminals kept the people they forced into the industry.
Let us never forget one thing. The reason 12-year-old kids are being sold in Quebec is that men are buying. That is another problem we have to tackle. Members of Parliament must have the courage to deal with prostitution in Canada. We need a law—just one—stating that it is a crime to buy sexual services in Canada. I hope that the day will come when we have the political courage to attack the johns, because if there are no johns, there will be no prostitutes.
Ms. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the second reading debate on Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons). I believe the bill addresses a matter of utmost importance: the criminal justice system must respond effectively to the crime of human trafficking.
Bill C-452 seeks to achieve the important goal of strengthening the criminal justice system's response to this heinous crime. Bill C-452's predecessor, Bill C-612, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), also sponsored by the member of Parliament for Ahuntsic, proposed similar amendments but died on the order paper at second reading with the dissolution of Parliament in 2011.
The objectives of the bill merit support. Its proposals seek to hold offenders accountable, impose penalties that befit the severity of the crime and assist in ensuring that offenders do not reap the rewards of their wrongdoing. There are, however, some legal issues raised by the bill's proposals, which I have no doubt can be addressed through amendments.
Bill C-452 proposes to amend the Criminal Code in a number of different ways.
First, it seeks to require that sentences imposed for procuring, section 212, and trafficking offences, sections 279.01 to 279.03, be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed. It also seeks to clarify that the main trafficking offence, section 279.01, would apply regardless of whether the crime occurred in a domestic or international context.
Further, it would add a presumption that an accused is exploiting a trafficking victim if he or she is shown to be habitually in the company of that victim. It would modify the definition of exploitation for the purposes of the trafficking offences to include specified means.
It would also modify the provision that imposes a reverse onus for forfeiture of proceeds of crime for certain offences to apply to both procuring and trafficking offences. Finally, it would make a small technical amendment to the French definition of exploitation, in section 279.04.
One concern raised by certain proposals in the bill involves the Bedford case, which is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. Bedford involves a Charter challenge to three prostitution-related Criminal Code provisions, including living on the avails of prostitution offence, paragraph 212.(1)(j), which is contained in the procuring provision, section 212. Any amendments impacting on this provision could compromise the government's defence of its constitutionality.
Another concern is that some of the proposals relate to issues already addressed by former Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), which was sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul and came into force in June 2012.
Former Bill C-310 extended extraterritorial jurisdiction for all Criminal Code trafficking offences and clarified the definition of exploitation in section 279.04 by creating an interpretive tool to assist courts in determining whether a person has exploited another for the purposes of the Criminal Code trafficking offences.
New amendments that overlap with recently enacted reforms could cause confusion in the law, which may create inconsistency in enforcement and interpretation. These concerns and others could be addressed through amendments to ensure consistency and clarity in the law and manage legal risk.
The bottom line, however, is that we should all support any proposals that would strengthen our response to a crime that is as pernicious and heinous as human trafficking. This crime is commonly referred to as a form of modern-day slavery.
There has been some confusion, both within Canada and internationally, about the nature of this crime. Given the breadth of the issue, the complicated way in which it can be carried out and the diversity of both its victims and its perpetrators, it is no wonder that the global community has struggled with defining it.
However, I can say to Canadians that our government continues to take steps to improve our responses to this very destructive criminal activity.
On June 6, 2012, the government launched Canada's national action plan to combat human trafficking to enhance our ability to prevent this crime, better support victims and ensure that traffickers are held accountable. We are directing more than $25 million over four years to implement this plan.
Specifically, the national action plan emphasizes the need for awareness in vulnerable populations, support for victims, dedicated law enforcement efforts and for all Canadians to prevent the trafficking of individuals.
Among other things, the national action plan launched Canada's first integrated law enforcement team dedicated to combatting human trafficking; increased front-line training to identify and respond to human trafficking and enhance prevention in vulnerable communities; provides more support for victims of this crime, both Canadians and newcomers; and strengthens the coordination with domestic and international partners who contribute to Canada's efforts to combat human trafficking.
Further to this, Canada ratified the United Nations protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The protocol's definition of human trafficking is consistent with Canada's four specific trafficking in persons offences, which provide us with a comprehensive domestic definition of this horrible crime. There are also many other Criminal Code offences that can be used to address related conduct.
As I mentioned, we have four trafficking-specific offences in our Criminal Code. The main offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, protects all persons by prohibiting the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purposes of exploitation.
The child trafficking offence, section 279.011, is the same as the main trafficking offence, with the exception that it imposes mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking in children. It was enacted by another bill sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul, former Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years), which came into force in June 2010.
I noticed that my colleague from the Bloc, who was speaking, mentioned a person under the age of 12. This unfortunately is something that does touch our children.
The two other trafficking-specific offences prohibit receiving a material benefit from the trafficking of a person and withholding or destroying documents in order to facilitate the trafficking of a person, sections 279.02 and 279.03. The Criminal Code also defines exploitation for the purposes of these offences in section 279.04.
Bill C-452 would add heavier penalties to this important group of offences by requiring the imposition of consecutive sentences for engaging in this type of reprehensible conduct. No one would disagree that penalties for this type of offence should be severe.
Bill C-452 would also require a sentencing court to order the forfeiture of offenders' property unless they disprove that their property is the proceeds of crime. We must ensure that traffickers are not permitted to keep the financial benefits of their insidious exploitation of others.
Bill C-452 would also create a presumption that would assist prosecutors in proving the main trafficking offences by proving a related fact, that the accused lived with or was habitually in the company of an exploited person. This type of offence is very difficult to investigate and prosecute, especially given that witnesses are usually afraid to come forward due to threats and intimidation. In particular, such a presumption could assist in holding an accused accountable or the prosecution's case rests heavily on the fact that the accused was living with or habitually in the company of an exploited person. However, this proposal requires amendments to ensure that it applies equally to the child trafficking offence, and the language should also be consistent with other Criminal Code presumptions so that the proposed presumption achieves its goal. These amendments would assist in securing convictions, ensure that punishment is proportional to the severity of the crime and deprive offenders of their ill-gotten gains.
I believe these are goals we can all support.