House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to participate in the debate on what is almost certainly going to be the last Conservative budget of this Parliament and, we hope, the last Conservative budget Canadians will have to endure for a long time.

Let me begin my comments this afternoon by reiterating what the NDP said on budget day. A month ago, the NDP leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, met with the Prime Minister to discuss the budget. He set out a clear message: focus on the priorities of middle-class families or be prepared to go into an election. We proposed reasonable budget measures despite the fact this is a government we have not supported.

However, New Democrats do believe that it is important to try to make Parliament work and we owe it Canadians. Therefore, we told the Prime Minister that in this recession, middle-class Canadians are working harder than ever before to make ends meet. Household debt is at an all-time high and the costs of everyday essentials are going up.

After years of the well connected and big business getting all the breaks, we believe it is time for families to get a break. We want to build a Canada where no senior lives in poverty, a Canada where no family has to go without a doctor, where every Canadian can retire with security. Clearly, the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister had an opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families, but he missed that opportunity. He just does not get it.

In the midst of mounting scandals, the government could have put political games aside and worked with other parties. It could have achieved practical, affordable results that would help families now and show Canadians that Ottawa can work for them, but the Prime Minister chose not to do that.

We called on him to create new positions for doctors and nurses for the five million Canadians without access to family medicine. The Conservative budget does not do that.

We called on him to help Canadians with ever-rising energy bills by removing the federal sales tax from home heating. The Conservative budget does not do that.

Because a quarter of a million seniors live in poverty today, which is a national disgrace, we called on the Prime Minister to ensure that no senior lives in poverty. The Prime Minister's budget will not do that. Because every Canadian deserves to have access to financially secure retirement, we called on him to set goals to increase benefits to the Canada pension plan. The Conservative budget does not do that.

Nothing in the budget has persuaded us that the Prime Minister has changed his ways and that he is prepared to work with others in Parliament to give middle-class families a break. That is why New Democrats cannot support the budget as presented.

Let us look at the budget in more detail. As I said, it was critical to my NDP colleagues and I that this budget be about helping seniors and the middle class. While the Prime Minister likes to point to soaring bank profit, taking that as proof that the recession is over, we have been focusing on an economic recovery that leaves no one behind. Clearly, hard-working families are far from enjoying any benefits from the so-called end of the recession.

Let me remind members in the House of the latest data. Yes, the government is right on one point: Canada's big banks are, indeed, raking in the cash. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, the big six banks earned over $6.5 billion and a record-breaking $21.58 billion for the past four quarters. Shamefully, the banks used half of those profits, a staggering $11 billion, for executive bonuses. Then, just to add insult to injury, those same six banks received an annual bonus from Canadian taxpayers of almost $890 million.

Are you kidding me, Mr. Speaker? We cannot afford $700 million to lift every senior out of poverty, but we can spend $890 million on corporate tax cuts just for the banks? I do not believe for a second that this will pass the nod test for anyone who is analyzing the Conservatives' budget priorities.

By reducing the corporate income taxes that government collects, the Conservatives are depriving the treasury of billions of dollars that could and should have been invested in Canadians. At a minimum, instead of giving tax cuts with no strings attached, they should have been focused on creating jobs. Job creation continues to be one of the most important issues for Canadians.

The government's own figures reveal that it has fallen 240,000 jobs short of its own targets. In fact, in the past three months, we lost almost 24,000 full-time jobs in this country. With the annual growth of population in Canada at 1.5%, there should be 280,000 new jobs created each year just to maintain our country's level of employment, but we are heading in the opposite direction.

When we look at the data, it is clear that the government's claim of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is misleading. In February 2011, Canada had 156,000 fewer full-time jobs than before the great recession began in October 2008. It is no wonder that Canadians simply do not share the government's optimism about their economic futures.

The Conservatives' budget does nothing to improve the situation. Despite the title of the budget proclaiming it to be a plan for “jobs and growth”, there is little in this budget that would give hope to the unemployed of a sustained job creation strategy. As the Toronto Star columnist, David Olive, warned so succinctly in his article entitled, “A budget worth defeating”:

Continued meaningful stimulus programs are not necessary, [the Prime Minister] feels, since the nation’s all better now.... As with a U.S. stimulus program that ended prematurely, Canada risks a return to slow growth as [the Prime Minister] turns now from stimulus to austerity.

In truth of course, it is very selective austerity. He had no problem finding $6 billion for additional corporate tax cuts, or $9 billion for U.S. style mega jails, or a whopping $29 billion for shiny new F-35 fighter jets.

This budget spends $10 for corporate tax reductions for every $1 it has for seniors. When it comes to job creation, again there is no money to be had.

On the contrary, the $4 billion in cuts to the federal public service will mean cuts in both jobs and services. The ministry that is tasked with helping Canadians through programs like EI, training and disability pensions is seeing its own cut of half a billion dollars over the next three years.

While I am on the topic of EI, let us look at another noteworthy fact from the budget. Over the next five years, EI premiums will exceed benefits by $15 billion. Given that forecast, it is absolutely shameful that the budget did not include any progress on enhancing Canada's employment insurance system. This is workers' money and workers need it now to put food on the table for their families. We know that EI stimulates the economy because the money paid out will go directly back into the community. People who are unemployed are not socking their benefits away in tax free savings accounts. They are spending that money on everyday essentials like food, clothing and shelter, mostly in their local community. EI thus helps hardworking Canadians and the local economy.

However, clearly poverty reduction is nowhere on the government's radar. There is nothing in this budget for affordable housing either, nothing for childcare, no increase to either the child tax benefit or the universal child care benefit and no real commitment to lifting seniors out of poverty.

One of the key proposals that we put before the Prime Minister was to help Canada's most vulnerable seniors with an affordable increase to their guaranteed income supplement. With $700 million, or half of what the government spent on the posh G8 and G20 summits, we could have ensured that no senior would have had to live in poverty. What did the budget do? It gave less than half that amount of money to three times as many people. It will not even come close to eliminating poverty for Canadian seniors. It is an absolute disgrace. Seniors have worked hard all their lives and played by the rules, but now everywhere they turn, every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less.

Just look at consumer prices. Overall, they rose 2.2% in the last year. Everything is going up except people's incomes. Energy prices rose 10.6% over the last year. We live in Canada. Heating our homes is not an option. How are seniors and middle-class families supposed to cope with that kind of an increase? Simply put, they cannot. That is why we proposed to take the HST off home heating. It was a reasonable proposal, especially when the budget reveals that the federal government is raking in $9 billion from the HST. We could and should have a longer discussion about how that is even possible when the government assured Canadians that the HST would be revenue neutral. I have to say there was no prouder moment for me in this Parliament than when my NDP colleagues and I stood in opposition to both the Conservatives and the Liberals and voted against the HST.

Let us look at the cost of gas next, another commodity that is not only rising in price but is also subject to the HST. Gasoline prices rose by a whopping 15.5% in the last year. Drivers faced double digit price increases for gasoline in every province except Manitoba. Every penny per litre increase in the cost of gasoline means an additional $1 million per day in profits for the oil companies. The 20¢ increase over the past six months therefore means an astonishing $20 million per day for the already super profitable oil industry and 95% of that price increase goes directly to the bottom line of the oil companies. Yet, the Conservative government is continuing to give these companies an additional bonus with taxpayers' money by lowering the tax levies on those super profits. Canadians are shaking their heads and saying enough is enough. It is time to cut off the support for these corporate welfare bums and start acting on the priorities of seniors and middle-class Canadians.

Let us get to the other two priorities that Canadians told us had to be in this budget, and that we submitted to the Prime Minister on their behalf. The first was ensuring that Canadians can count on their pensions when they need them, by strengthening the Canada pension plan. Specifically, we needed to see a commitment from the government that it move to an eventual doubling of the CPP benefit. Instead, the budget offered vague rhetoric with no real goal. Frankly, that is not good enough.

Only one-third of Canadian workers have a workplace pension.

Similarly, only a third of Canadians contribute to an RRSP, and those who do, just watched billions of dollars in precious savings vaporize during the recession. The current system is leaving too many people without the retirement savings they need. There is too much at risk and not enough security.

In past crises, Canadians have come together to create solutions, to minimize risks by sharing it. That is what we did when we created public health care and yes, that is what we did when we created the public pensions that are now the only reliable part of our whole retirement security system.

Let us face it, for more than a generation wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living and most Canadians have not been able to save what they need.

The best way to help today's workers save enough money for tomorrow is through an improved Canada pension plan, which is why we propose that over the next several years we lay the foundation to double CPP benefits for the future. The CPP has been proven time and again to be a safe, secure and efficient retirement savings plan. Plus the CPP is portable from job to job, across provinces, keeps up with inflation, and is backed by the government. Because the CPP operates independently from government, there is no cost to taxpayers. In fact, there is the potential for governments to save over time.

We all need to save more for retirement. Putting that little bit extra into the CPP makes more sense than investing it into risky RRSPs. It is safer, easier, in fact, it is effortless, and it earns more.

I know that my time is just about up, but I want to say at least a few words about our fourth budget ask, as well.

Currently, there are five million Canadians without a family doctor. What is the government's answer to this crisis? It wants to incent doctors and nurses to work in northern and remote regions. That strategy is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The Conservatives are not creating a single new doctor with that strategy. Instead, they are taking doctors out of urban centres and moving them elsewhere in the country. That is hardly a solution. The shortage of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals is acute in all parts of the country.

The Canada health accord comes up for renewal in 2014. I thought that this budget would have risen to the occasion and laid out a blueprint for the challenges ahead. But, instead, there is silence. I suppose I should not have been surprised. The Conservatives never did keep their promise of a comprehensive patient wait times guarantee. All we had was a handful of pilot projects that left most patients out in the cold.

The government's big plan to train more doctors, which was announced with such fanfare last month, turns out to have a target of just 100 doctors for the five million Canadians who have no doctor now.

As the president of the Canadian Medical Association rightly pointed out on February 28, Canadian health care is “deeply troubled” and the Prime Minister is failing to take any active role to fix it.

The Council of Canadians echoes that sentiment. Here is its reaction to the health care part of the budget:

The budget was released yesterday and health care is anything but a top priority.

We need a government who will invest in comprehensive community care (home care and long-term care) and is willing to look at sustainable solutions to the current health care challenges, not a government who listens to the pharmaceutical lobbyists hoping to pad the pockets of their investors and share holders.

This budget is a great disappointment for Canadians looking for the Conservatives to stop playing political games and get something done for them.

The Prime Minister had the opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families and seniors but sadly, he chose instead to manipulate an election call while trying in vain to blame others for it. He chose to ignore the struggles of families and instead spent tax dollars lining the pockets of corporate Canada and the wealthy.

In this budget and in the appalling behaviour of the current government, particularly in recently months, the Prime Minister has shown the House of Commons and the people of Canada nothing but intransigence, arrogance, small-mindedness and contempt--contempt for our democratic institutions, contempt for Parliament and therefore, contempt for Canadian families and seniors.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor

March 24, 2011

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Rosalie Silberman Abella, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the schedule to this letter on the 24th day of March, 2011, at 4:02 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act—Chapter 12.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

moved that Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). This is a bill upon which we have been working for more than a year. Many women’s groups have been consulted, as well as victims’ groups, police forces and even the Barreau du Québec. Before giving a brief outline of the bill, I would like to sketch a quick picture of trafficking in persons and provide some information, including statistics.

According to 2009 figures from the UNODC, 79% of trafficking victims in the world are trafficked for purposes of prostitution. According to 2005 figures from the International Labour Organization, 80% of trafficking victims are women and children, particularly young girls, and 40% to 50% of all victims are children.

Women and girls make up 98% of the victims of sexual exploitation. Hence the violence inflicted in this sort of trafficking mainly affects women. According to 2007 figures from the UNODC, the annual proceeds of this criminal activity are estimated at $32 billion. This is estimated to be the third-largest criminal trade after drugs and weapons trafficking. Certain research even estimates it to be the second-largest. This trade is dominated by criminal groups, and the traffickers are difficult to apprehend since they are extremely dangerous and violent. Naturally, as one can understand, the victims are forced to remain silent.

Here is a picture of the situation in Canada: Canada is considered to be a country of recruitment, destination and transit, particularly transit to the United States. Unfortunately, Canada is also a place of sex tourism. Contrary to what one might think, this sort of thing does not happen only in Thailand. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada indicates in its 2001 report that, in Canada, the average age of entry into prostitution is 14. According to 2004 figures from the U.S. State Department, every year an estimated 1,500 to 2,200 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. It is estimated that over 65,000 persons in Canada engage in the online exchange of child pornography, in photos and videos. And this is a fairly conservative figure, if one can say that.

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, of course, street gangs. It is said that a girl can be ordered much as one orders a pizza. This is quite incredible. In the city of Montreal alone, it is estimated that 300 minor girls aged 12 to 17 are sexually exploited, whether through pornography or prostitution, although the figures vary depending on the research. Some studies talk about 800, others 488, or even 1,500 children and adolescents in the Montreal region alone.

The city that comes second to Montreal is Quebec City. The sites of prostitution are varied: bars, strip clubs, prostitution networks, escort agencies and massage parlours. A girl may be moved from Canada to the United States or from one province to another. With reference to sexual exploitation, the majority of prostitution networks can be found in the big cities such as Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, Niagara, Peel, etc.

Girls recruited in Atlantic Canada can wind up in Quebec and Ontario, or in Alberta and British Columbia, and vice versa. Although this odious trade is dominated by organized crime, street gangs have now become new players in this trafficking. The Montreal police service has declared human trafficking to be its number one priority.

It is estimated that since the late 1990s, members of street gangs have changed from small recruiters to high-level procurers. They are also involved in interprovincial trafficking and of course in trafficking with the United States. Their preferred clientele, not to play on words, their target, is girls between the ages of 11 and 25. They specialize in child prostitution. One girl can bring in around $280,800 per year. Twenty girls earn $6.552 million a year, and 40 girls $13.104 million. This is a business that is not very risky and that is also inexpensive and very lucrative.

The penalties are negligible. I will give you an example of a pimp in Peel region who exploited a 15-year-old girl for two years. This earned him $360,000 per year. He received a three-year sentence. Unfortunately, the girls refuse to testify, simply because they are understandably afraid, for they are frequently beaten and tortured, and so on.

So you will understand the full importance of this bill, which targets a number of different points. Given the time allotted to me, I will try to review them very quickly for my colleagues.

The first point was to clarify the definition of the words “trafficking” and “exploitation”, because they were sometimes confusing. It was explained to me by the police community that sometimes, or even very often, the legal community regards trafficking as being international. All that we have done in subsection 279.01(1) of the Criminal Code is add “in a domestic or international context”. It must be made clear that trafficking is interprovincial, inter-country and transnational, in the same way as it can be from city to city or district to district.

We have also clarified the definition of the word “exploitation”, for the current definition is a bit of a catch-all, in the sense that it can cover anything from forced labour to sexual exploitation. So we have added a clause that clarifies and adds sexual exploitation and that in a way allows prosecutors, legislators and the police to pinpoint this type of crime. Section 279.04 of the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following at the end of paragraph (a): “(a.I) cause them to provide or offer to provide sexual services by the use or threat of force...”. Everything has been included.

In a way, this definition copies or is modelled on the Palermo protocol and would permit Canada to honour its signing of that text. I leave it to my colleagues to take a closer look at this. I continue with the reading of the clause: “...or of any other form of coercion, by fraud, deception, manipulation, abuse of authority or situation of vulnerability...”. So we touch upon different ways in which a pimp or a trafficker can cause a victim to be exploited.

In modifying this definition, Canada will thus be able to comply with and honour its signing of the Palermo protocol.

In listening to the police, we realized that the common complaint was that sentences were not harsh enough. We did not consider minimum sentencing because we think judges should have as much latitude as possible in handing down a sentence. Nonetheless, we focused on consecutive sentencing. When a person is charged with trafficking, prostitution or aggravated assault—quite often these types of charges go hand in hand with this type of crime—the judge, after all the legal steps, all the plea bargaining, could add up the sentences he will impose according to the remaining charges. We are leaving it up to the judges, but at the same time we are leaving room for more substantial sentences than what we are currently seeing. This provision will apply to human trafficking—therefore sections 279.01 to 279.03—and could also apply to provision 212.01—or procuring offences.

What is more, we tried to resolve the issue of evidence. I believe we have done well. The police were telling us that it was often very difficult to get testimony from a victim. Victims do not necessarily want to testify, out of fear. The police suggested establishing reverse onus, as in subsection 212(3). If the police could have enough evidence, they would not need a victim's testimony to press charges. The wording for the provision was modelled after the wording for the provision on prostitution.

For the purposes of subsection (1), a person who is not exploited and who lives with or is habitually in the company of or harbours a person who is exploited shall, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, be deemed to be exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person.

This point has already passed the constitutional hurdle in regard to the provisions on procurement. I do not think there will be any constitutional problems in this respect, given that this was already tested regarding prostitution. I submitted it to the Barreau du Québec and have not heard anything back. We were very careful about proposing this.

The victims groups with whom I met were very happy with this provision because it removes the burden of proof from victims.

There is another very important point that will address what is reported to us from the field. This will be very beneficial financially of course, but also in terms of arrests, charges and denunciatory sentences. By introducing subsection 462.37(2.02), we are adding the offences of procuring and human trafficking to the existing section of the Criminal Code, which deals with offences committed by criminal gangs liable to sentences of five years or more, as well as all offences under section 5, 6 or 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This section already exists in the Criminal Code. We are just adding the offence of procuring and human trafficking so that people charged with human trafficking can have the proceeds of their crimes confiscated. This is not done now, unfortunately, and these people continue to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes. When someone is charged with and found guilty of trafficking, he will have to prove that the millions of dollars he has in the bank, his big houses and cars, are not proceeds of crime.

Finally, our changes to section 7 of the Criminal Code are based on what the police told us, especially the child sexual abuse unit. They said Canadians could go abroad, commit human trafficking offences there, and return to Canada with impunity. They could not be prosecuted. I was told about three Canadians who went to Somalia and opened an orphanage, where they trafficked several children. They returned to Canada with impunity, without being charged with anything at all, because unfortunately there is still no provision in the Criminal Code providing that a Canadian or permanent resident, within the meaning of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, who commits such an act abroad can be charged as if he had committed the act in Canada.

We have worked very hard on this bill, which was supported by a number of groups and various police forces we consulted. I did not consult them all, of course.

I encourage all my colleagues to support this bill. Not only will it give police and prosecutors the tools they need to do their jobs, but it will also do justice to the victims, who will no longer have to bring a case before the courts. They can be better protected. Finally, the bill will make it possible to confiscate property.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand here and talk about this issue. It is one that has concerned me for some time, and certainly for the past five years.

I congratulate my colleague on her speech, as I support this. The identification and definition of exploitation is certainly a serious issue around the world that we struggle with in many jurisdictions. It is nice to see that we have legislation, albeit a private member's bill, that brings us in line with what many jurisdictions around the world are doing, especially in Europe right now as they look at that.

Some of the details around section 279 also concern me, but I do believe that in this particular situation we need to provide the identification of this for the international and domestic victims of human trafficking. The member pointed out, quite rightly in her speech, just how severe this is and how it ranks third to weapons and drugs.

I like this because now we can have a wholesome debate about the rehabilitation and identification of these victims so they can get the help they need. Specifically, we had a debate before regarding punishment, and I congratulate my colleague in the government for doing that at the very beginning.

I do want to add to this debate by talking about the social concerns. My opinion is that we need to open up a discussion with provinces for the services provided to victims.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is quite right. Very few resources are being made available to victims of trafficking. Nearly 80% of trafficking victims are used for purposes of prostitution. There are a few services, but not a great many, given the extent of the problem. Furthermore there are no services for women who want to get out of prostitution and out of the exploitation of which they are the victims.

In the course of my career, I have met with many female prostitutes and minors who were victims of exploitation. What is very clear to me is that when they want to leave that life, they do not have the necessary resources to return to work or school, for example, or to receive psychological assistance. When a girl forced into sexual exploitation at age 12, 13 or 14 gets to be 18 or 19, it is difficult for her to leave that life behind when she has nothing.

There is a huge lack of resources, and we have to address this: the hon. member is perfectly correct.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for bringing this issue to the House of Commons again.

I listened very carefully to what my colleague had to say. We did share some time on the status of women committee on this issue. I appreciated her input at that time.

I was disappointed when my own bill came forward that the Bloc as a whole voted against it. I do feel very strongly that there was some pressure on the member not to participate, but I do not know that for sure.

This is a horrendous issue in this country right now. In reference to the man who was the first criminal convicted of human trafficking, his name was Imani Nakpamgi. I worked with his victim very closely. She was 15.5 years old when she was initially trafficked.

What would the member consider the most important thing for these victims to be able to recuperate?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. I know that human trafficking is a major concern for her as well. I would like to explain that the Bloc Québécois voted against her bill not because it is against the principle of increased sentencing, but because it does not agree with minimum sentencing.

I have spoken with certain police officers and asked them whether minimum sentences worked. They told me they did not. When it is time for plea bargaining, the lawyers do everything they can to get charges that carry minimum sentences dropped. Unfortunately, this serves no purpose and prevents the judge from making an informed decision.

What I can say to my colleague is that this bill is a good bill. I hope that she is not overwhelmed by her disappointment and that she is able to move forward with this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on private member's Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for this initiative, which seeks to deter people from committing these crimes and to ensure that those who profit from them are punished accordingly. I believe that we all agree that these objectives deserve our support. In fact, thanks to the hard work of the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul, there is now a minimum sentence in the Criminal Code for those found guilty of trafficking in persons under the age of 18, an initiative that was supported by all opposition parties except the Bloc. It is a shame for this party and a sad day for Quebec's children.

Although we support the good intentions of the bill, I believe that, in its current form, it could prevent the desired objectives from being attained. I will spend my time pointing out some of the problems with the bill, but I will do so in a constructive manner and in the hope of making it as sound and effective as possible. In my opinion, changes need to be made to fill in the gaps in current criminal law and provide sufficient legal clarification so that such changes are useful to police and prosecutors. In the end, it would allow the member to attain her objectives of deterring and punishing this crime.

Human trafficking is a problem that comes up often. It garners a lot of attention from the public, media, police and legislators across the country and around the world. I believe that this interest stems from the fundamental human concern we have for one another and from the fact that we all recognize that no one should be treated as merchandise that can be bought and sold for profit. It is a form of modern slavery. Despite the attention that this crime garners, we are only just starting to comprehend the nature and scope of this crime in Canada and abroad. We do know, however, that women and children are disproportionately victimized by this crime.

According to the United Nations, in 2009, 66% and 13% of the victims were women and girls, respectively, compared with 12% for men and 9% for boys. The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people are victims of human trafficking every year. And this crime is clearly very profitable. The United Nations estimates that this crime nets nearly $32 billion each year for the offenders.

Police investigations and prosecutions in Canada provide us with useful, albeit incomplete, information about human trafficking. These cases have demonstrated that the majority of victims were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. But there are also cases of trafficking for forced labour. Most of the victims were women and the majority of these human trafficking cases took place here in Canada.

In December 2010, RCMP statistics showed that there were at least 36 cases involving human trafficking before our courts. That is an encouraging number because it shows that the criminal justice system is becoming more comfortable with the relatively new offences involving human trafficking.

In light of this, we must ensure that we do not inadvertently make our laws less effective. I am concerned that certain proposals that have been put forth could do just that. And in that context, I would like to speak to the content of this bill.

First, it would grant the extraterritorial power to bring legal action in Canada against Canadians or permanent residents who commit offences related to adult trafficking abroad. This seems logical to me and I know that extending jurisdiction in this matter is encouraged under the relevant international law. In fact, other countries have taken measures in this regard, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

I believe—and I am asking members to think about this—that this type of amendment should have been extended to offences involving the trafficking of children, which fall under section 279.011 of the Criminal Code. This offence was enacted last year further to private member's Bill C-268, which was introduced and sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul. The addition of a human trafficking offence involving both adults and children would allow us to ensure that Canadian laws and, of course, this bill, are consistent, as well as to take legal action no matter what the age of the victim.

I also support the bill's proposal to the effect that human trafficking offences should result in the reversal of the onus of proof in cases related to proceeds of crime. The existing regime limits this possibility to serious offences involving organized crime and other serious drug offences that are directly related to organized crime. We know that members of organized crime groups also participate in human trafficking. This amendment would target financial incentives and make this type of crime less appealing to criminal organizations.

This bill also proposes a “presumption” that appears to be an attempt to make prosecution easier. In cases involving adults, this presumption would require the court to find that the accused is exploiting a victim if he lives with a person who is exploited or is habitually in the company of or harbours a person who is exploited.

Presumptions help prosecutors prove an element of the offence by establishing a fact. However, as it is written, I do not think that the presumption achieves its goal. That said, I think that the goal could be achieved if the proposal could be amended to ensure that it produces the desired results and that it is compatible with the existing presumptions in the Criminal Code. I urge hon. members to think about the need to make such amendments to the bill.

Furthermore, I am concerned about a number of amendments this bill proposes to section 212 of the Criminal Code, which is commonly known as the procuring provision. Two amendments are proposed. The first would require that individuals found guilty of this offence must serve their sentences consecutively to any other punishment they have received. The second would apply reverse onus to this offence in cases related to the proceeds of crime.

As the House surely knows, our government is currently defending the constitutional validity of certain provisions regarding prostitution. Therefore, I think it would be ill-advised to make more amendments to these provisions before a ruling is made.

I would like to tell the member that I am absolutely willing to work with her to strengthen this bill in order to hold traffickers responsible for their horrendous crimes.

However, I am outraged that the Bloc has introduced this bill, since it knows that it wants to defeat the government. This is a case of opportunism. That party is trying to pretend that it defends victims, when all it does is defend the rights of criminals.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ahuntsic for introducing this bill, for having put so much effort into creating it and for introducing it here in the House. I am very proud to have the opportunity to speak to this bill during the first hour of debate at second reading.

On behalf of my party, I would like to say right away that I intend to recommend to my caucus that we support this bill when the time comes to vote to send it to committee, with the hope that there is one some day. If this bill dies on the order paper, I hope it will be introduced again in a future Parliament, so that it may be revived and find its way before a standing committee of the House.

I will not repeat the bill's objective. I believe the hon. member for Ahuntsic described it very well, as did the parliamentary secretary, although he concluded his speech with an absurd remark. Until then, I found his speech rather interesting. I thought the points he raised in such a thoughtful, serious manner were interesting and worthy of our attention. It is unfortunate that he chose to resort to petty politics and to attack the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc has a role to play, just like the Liberal Party of Canada or the NDP, in ensuring democracy in the House of Commons, in the Parliament of Canada. Our Parliament is the pillar of democracy in Canada.

We have watched this government, this Conservative government, attack our institutions one by one, finally arriving at the last bastion, Parliament. The Conservatives arrived at its doors and attacked with contempt of Parliament. I do not wish to stray too far from my speech, but I believe this is pertinent.

It is regrettable that we have a Conservative government that has not developed a national strategy on human trafficking in Canada. It is regrettable that they have left it up to private members to try to amend the Criminal Code, address its shortcomings with respect to human trafficking in Canada and trafficking committed elsewhere by Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and ensure that perpetrators are charged, brought before the courts, prosecuted and held accountable.

It is regrettable that this Conservative government has not taken this issue seriously and that it has left it up to private members to try to address the shortcomings of our system.

I congratulate the Bloc member for Ahuntsic. I would also like to say well done to the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

The member made an attempt as well to try to close the gaps in Canada's legislation dealing with human trafficking. It is simply unacceptable that a government, like the Conservative regime, does not take this issue seriously. It does not see it as a priority to be dealt with in order to ensure that our legislative framework, our laws, deal with this issue with the gravity, the seriousness, and the severity with which it should be dealt with. The government has left it to simple MPs to attempt, through the laborious process of private members' bills, to fix the problem.

I find it shameful that the government has done nothing on this. I find it shameful that its own member had to come up with her own national strategy on human trafficking because her own government did not act and still has yet to act on the issue. It is shameful.

There are a number of issues which are of concern, such as the issue of the reversal of the presumption of innocence. I understand provisions already exist in the Criminal Code for other criminal offences on reversal. We look forward to examining this in committee should it get to committee, which is quite doubtful.

We also have a concern that by stipulating the sentences would be served consecutively to any other sentence removes judicial discretion. We prefer to see judicial discretion and, if necessary, if we find judges are not exercising their discretion in a manner that achieves the objective intended by the law, then we amend and put in criteria that the judge has to take into account in exercising his or her discretion.

Therefore, we would afford the opportunity to look at that. We are looking forward to hearing from expert witnesses, including the Quebec Bar Association.

I would like to give a bit of history on the Liberal position.

In 2009, in Volume III of the Pink Book, the Liberal women's caucus recommended that a national strategy be developed in partnership with the provinces and territories to prevent the trafficking of girls and women. As recommended by the Liberal women's caucus, this strategy would incorporate measures related to prevention, protection and justice, and increased funding to support victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women studied the issue of human trafficking in 2007. It released a report entitled, Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation, which could also form the basis for a comprehensive national action plan.

It is simply unacceptable that, under the Conservative government, Canada is one of the few countries that does not have a national strategy to prevent human trafficking.

The Liberal Party has been calling on the Conservative government to act for the past three years. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women has been asking for that as have the other opposition parties. I know the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul has also been calling for that.

Should this Parliament continue, which I doubt, and a vote happens at second reading, I call on each and every member of the House to support sending the bill to committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleagues from the Liberals and Conservatives in congratulating the member for Ahuntsic for her work on the bill.

It is obvious from the speeches we have heard so far that all parties are aware of the serious nature of human trafficking. I was just speaking to my colleague and we were wondering when we began to identify this.

From my own practice as a lawyer in the Windsor area, we began identifying it as early as the mid-eighties, seeing the biker gangs, in particular, trafficking women, ostensibly as exotic dancers, but often times doubling as prostitutes. Those women had very little control over their lives, all of it being controlled and enforced by the bikers. That was both domestic and international, because we had them moving back and forth between Windsor and Detroit. We have known about this for quite some time.

I want to echo the comments by my colleague from the Liberal Party that it really is a shame. We have seen the quite excellent work and the passion that the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul has brought to this issue, both in the House and on the Hill and in the country as a whole. However, she has not had basically any support from her own government or party.

The bill that went through under her name earlier last year was a step forward. It addressed one part of this problem. Without taking, in any way, away from the work that was done, it was a relatively small part of the overall problem. It addressed it and it was a way of dealing with it. However, we need a much more comprehensive response to this, both in changes to the Criminal Code, some of which were seen in the bill presented by the Bloc member, but much more than that. In my own opinion, we also need much more practical resources being put into this battle. By that I mean greater police forces to do the investigation and additional prosecutors specifically trained in dealing with this issue.

It is a slavery issue. There is no other word to accurately describe it in the common vernacular. This is slavery. Violence is used on a regular basis, both physical, direct to the victims, and threats to them and their families. Quite significant resources need to be put into play above and beyond the amendments we need to the Criminal Code to make it easier for our prosecutors, in particular, to prosecute these offences, especially going after the gangs.

Because I do not want to take up a lot of time today, I will address the bill itself. Generally the NDP would be supportive of this. Even though it is a private member's bill, I can say that on behalf of my party. I do have a couple of reservations about it. I think the issue around the presumption, around the exploitation issue, is open to a challenge. Because of the way it is worded, which is quite excellently, I hope we would survive that charter challenge. The challenge would be around whether it were specific enough to be clear what the offence would be. It will be interesting to see if we can get that through. I am optimistic we will, but I would expect we will have a challenge.

The other one that may be a greater problem in terms of its consequences, its usefulness, is the issue of how we would treat consecutive sentencing. The Supreme Court of Canada has been very hard, as have most of our courts across the country, on enforcing the concept of proportionality in sentencing. Even though we would say that a person committed this offence, assaulted the victim and also exploited her, because it is almost always a women that is being exploited, which would be two different charges, we would give the person a certain length of sentence for the assault but the exploitation would be consecutive.

Even if we do that, I am not convinced the outcome would be much longer sentences. The courts would refer to the proportionality principle, which would say that in total they want the person to be in custody for this length of time. Therefore, the two sentences in total, even though they are consecutive, may not be any longer than the first one would have been with the second one served concurrently. I am not sure we will see much change.

I will finish with again congratulating the member for having done this work. I just wish the government would take a holistic view to this problem and get at it both in terms of amendments to the code through this chamber and also at the street level where we need more police and more prosecutors to really get at this effectively.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Ahuntsic introduced Bill C-612 after holding a number of consultations and having the legal rules explained—since this is not her primary profession—that need to be respected in order for her proposed improvements to have a legal impact and to make clarifications. When a private member's bill is introduced it is not enough to have good intentions. Such bills need to be translated into legal language that will have consequences.

That is where another hon. member went wrong. Her definition of human trafficking was so broad that it ended up only covering exploitation. It was clear that the Supreme Court would have rejected it because of the minimum sentence. It would have used the same reasoning as it did in the Smith case in the 1980s. In that famous case, the Supreme Court studied the minimum sentence of seven years in prison for importing narcotics. It found that the definition was so broad that even the smallest amount of imported marijuana would be punishable by a minimum sentence of seven years in prison. It found that to be unreasonable and declared that minimum sentence unconstitutional; it has not be reinstated since.

If a minimum sentence were established for simple exploitation, without regard for the duration, the type of exploitation or its extent, the Supreme Court would uphold the same reasoning. I have defended it without using authority as argument. Here we should naturally be concerned with applying the charter, which outlines the principles of justice we should all share. The charter in this case has made Parliament a little irresponsible. In this case, the changes are useful and it is clear that they were made following consultations with people who apply them. They fill the gaps that were hindering enforcement.

The first change has to do with jurisdiction. It is rare for Canada to claim, as France does, to oversee the conduct of all individuals on Earth. France claims that, no matter where an offence is committed, France has jurisdiction over it. Canada has applied its jurisdiction in a certain number of cases that were perfectly justified and it did so again recently. Canada assumes extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes having to do with sexual exploitation abroad. That is the first amendment being proposed in clause 1.

Next, consecutive sentences are added. I would like to respond to the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine by saying that, even when consecutive sentences are imposed, judges retain their discretion. Consecutive sentences have a certain amount of importance in this situation. Very often, the pimp lives with his victims. He sexually abuses them and changes victims regularly. His victims will not file a complaint about their situation. Nevertheless, the police can establish that the person is being exploited. Very often, the pimp who is living with the victim is the one who is exploiting her. A presumption is therefore created.

The presumption is created based on observations made by police.

I would like to come back to the consecutive nature of the sentence. The judge retains his or her discretion. Most of the time, the pimp leads a life of crime and has committed many other offences. When he is arrested, he will likely face a number of charges. Sexual exploitation of women, particularly if they are also young, is an offence that must be clearly indicated and he must understand that a specific sentence will be imposed for that offence. The sentence for this offence should not be buried under the other sentences he may have to serve, for example, if he has stolen goods in his home, if he is in possession of drugs, if he is in possession of a large quantity of drugs, if he has been trafficking in drugs. No. He must understand that the sentence being imposed on him is for the sexual exploitation of the woman. This does not take away from judges' discretion, but requires them to specify which punishments are for which crimes in a given case.

Indeed, one of the major shortcomings we found with Bill C-268, which was introduced by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, is that the definition of “exploitation” was too broad. I would like to remind the members of the wording of that bill:

Every person who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation is guilty of an indictable offence...

I took the time to read the entire clause, but the most important word is “or” because it indicates that any one of these acts is a crime. It does not say “recruits, transports, and transfers, and receives, and holds, and conceals”. It could be any of those.

The word “harbours” is in there. We know that organized crime is often behind such exploitation, and they have groups of prostitutes. The girls are taken quite young and are sometimes taken from a foreign country. Consider a girl who starts at the age of 17 and a half. After eight months, when she is 18 and has an apartment, she is told that another girl will arrive the following day and they ask her to take this new girl in until she can find her own place. Or maybe they ask if she can stay there and the two could become friends. So the girl who is 18 years and 2 months old is harbouring the girl who is 17 years and 6 months old for the purpose of exploitation and for the organization. Does that warrant a five-year prison term? No judge would want to hand down that sentence. In all the cases the member who introduced this bill was worried about, I am sure that the judges would have given a five-year sentence, but there are clearly exceptions to be made.

There is another issue. It is clear that each of these acts—recruiting, transporting, transferring—must be for the purpose of exploiting a person. But what is exploitation? It is defined in the act, a bit further down:

...a person exploits another person if they

a) cause them to provide, or offer to provide, labour or a service by engaging in conduct that, in all the circumstances, could reasonably be expected to cause the other person to believe that their safety or the safety of a person known to them would be threatened if they failed to provide, or offer to provide, the labour or service.

In short, I would say that that is a form of intimidation.

But this is a matter of providing labour. For how long? Sometimes, when I go into a convenience store, I get the impression that some young people are very young. How did they come to be working at 11 p.m. when they are only 15 or 16 years old? Did someone make them feel that they should do it? The definition was too broad and that is why, I am sure, it will be declared contrary to the charter.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that I only have two or three minutes left, so I am going to have to compress my comments.

I first want to congratulate the member for her bill, Bill C-612. I think it is a very important bill. I want to also recognize the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her work with her bill.

Just so that the members know, human trafficking is the third largest grossing sector of organized crime, after drugs and arms. Therefore, it is very important that the member has dealt with some specific changes to the Criminal Code. However, the one that I would like to point out that impresses me the most is the fact that the bill would allow for the confiscation of any proceeds of crime related to the commission of the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons.

That is important. We see this happening in my home province of Manitoba as well, where we passed legislation that confiscates the proceeds of crime. If we can seize the houses, the bank accounts, and the money from criminals who are dealing in drugs and dealing in this type of activity, or any criminal activity, we can take away their reason for doing the activity in the first place. That is a very important part of the process here.

I believe I will have more time in the second hour, so I will deal with other issues then. However, just in the off chance that I am not returned in the election, I want to say that I have enjoyed working with all 308 members in the House here and I want to wish all 308 the best in all their future endeavours.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have eight minutes should this bill come back for the second hour of debate.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 is deemed to have been moved.

March 24th, 2011 / 6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, on Monday I asked the government to commit to replacing the Champlain Bridge in Montreal. All I received by way of an answer from the minister of state was empty words, coming from a government that has washed its hands of its responsibility for the busiest bridge in Canada.

The Champlain Bridge is a critical artery, not only for my constituents, but also for all the people on the island of Montreal, in Quebec, and even in eastern Canada. It is a highway upon which a major part of our economy depends.

We know that the bridge is reaching the end of its useful life and we also know that a feasibility study will soon be conducted. The federal and provincial governments will be advised of the results and then the recommendations will be made public. The government must understand the importance of making the Champlain Bridge a priority. I know that the pitiful state of the bridge concerns everyone who uses it and that South Shore residents are tired of waiting for a permanent solution. We do not want a band-aid solution like the one proposed to us by a candidate and senator on March 18.

I was profoundly shocked by the cynicism and opportunism of the current government with regard to the serious problems that threaten our Champlain Bridge.

We can no longer believe that a few million dollars, spread out over three years, will be sufficient to address the fundamental issue in a sustainable manner. The government must take extraordinary efforts right away to find a real long-term solution by replacing the current structure of the Champlain Bridge.

For as long as studies have been piling up over the past few years, the government had an obligation to find a solution, not an oversized band-aid.

I am flabbergasted that the government has refused to make a firm commitment regarding the necessary federal investments to ensure the sustainability of the Champlain Bridge.

I would remind the House that in budget 2009, the government announced funding to repair the bridge and said that the work would extend the life of the bridge by 20 to 25 years. In February 2011, the current Minister of Transport told La Presse that the bridge would be good for the next 10 years. In barely two years, the bridge's lifespan was reduced by 10 to 15 years.

Such scorn is worrisome, and the government's refusal to give us all the pertinent information is even more worrisome. Why does the government not consider the Champlain Bridge a priority infrastructure project? I am astonished that this regime refuses to make a firm commitment regarding the federal investments needed to ensure the durability, and more importantly, the safety of the Champlain Bridge.

Why does this government not regard the bridge as the top priority for the Montreal region? What is it waiting for to ask Transport Canada and Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated to come up with an appropriate, long-term solution as soon as possible?

I know that the results of the other feasibility study will be released shortly, but if we rely on the timeline the government has given us, we are running out of time to find a solution. Furthermore, my constituents are sick and tired of hearing about more studies. How many have been done? The time to act is now. We need a new bridge, and construction must begin as soon as possible.

If the government is serious about being transparent on this issue, why does the minister refuse to table the diagnostic tests conducted on the bridge? At least we would be able to have a clearer picture of the problems. Will it take a major catastrophe for the government to act and finally make the replacement of the Champlain Bridge a real priority?