Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee today.
As you mentioned, I am affiliated with the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy in Vancouver, which is a United Nations-affiliated research institute, as well as with the University College of the Fraser Valley.
My colleagues and I, over the last four or five years, have had all kinds of opportunities to work on the issue of human trafficking and have studied the problem. We were involved initially, more than five years ago, in the discussions that led to the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the protocols thereto, of course, as observers and as part of a committee of experts. We were also involved in designing and developing legislative guides for member states on how to implement these international instruments with the support of the Government of Canada. We were involved in developing a tool kit for member states on how to implement the protocol on trafficking in persons, and also developing handbooks for law enforcement officers, both in Canada and in other countries. We have worked locally and nationally with our colleagues from the RCMP and other police forces. We also work internationally, again on human trafficking, with colleagues from Central America and with UNICEF in Vietnam and in Myanmar. So we have gathered a fairly good appreciation of the complexity of the problem and would like to volunteer some comments today on how much progress we have made in Canada and what's still ahead of us in terms of actions to counter the problem.
As Sergeant Lowe has already mentioned, we don't have really good information in Canada, or systematic information, on the extent of the problem. In fact, I understand this is the first hearing of this committee on the issue of human trafficking. There's no doubt in my mind that during the course of your work you will hear different views on how important the problem is and how it presents itself in Canada. This disagreement on the nature of the problem and the extent to which it afflicts us in Canada is partly due still, in spite of the new legal definitions of the problem, to disagreements or different views about what constitutes a problem. It's also due to the fact that this is not an easy problem to study, because obviously all of that crime occurs in a clandestine fashion and is obviously difficult to measure. Organized crime does not publish annual reports, so it's quite difficult to get a good sense of what it is.
On the other hand, in the last five to ten years, basically around the globe people have paid more attention to the issue, and we're getting a little wiser about how the problem presents itself and what works and what doesn't work. I think it would be fair to say that the international community is still trying to identify some of the best practices, but we know a lot more today about the problem and how best to respond to it than we did, say, ten years ago.
One of the issues that you will probably notice is that in Canada there are still very few official cases of human trafficking--only a handful. By “official”, I mean cases that have come to the attention of law enforcement and have been treated or recognized as cases of human trafficking. Once you notice this, you have to wonder what's really happening. Are we really the only country in which there is very little human trafficking? Is it true that there aren't many cases out there, or is the problem merely one where a lot of victims in Canada still do not find it safe to come forward and ask for assistance?
In Canada we don't yet have a good way of keeping track of cases. I know our colleagues from the RCMP have worked on developing databases, including intelligence databases, that allow them to keep track of the information that comes to their attention, either in the form of complaints or in the form of intelligence. Still, there are many issues in Canada about studying the problem and figuring out how it presents itself. For instance, there are very few, if any, official cases of trafficking in children in Canada. Are we supposed to believe we'd be the only western country with no incidents of child trafficking? That would be very surprising.
We need to deal with the issue differently and be more vigilant. Obviously this is not a case that comes to the attention of the police spontaneously. It is an area where proactive law enforcement is really important, and that is why the work described earlier by Sergeant Lowe is so important, not only at the level of the RCMP but at the level of all police forces in Canada, and I'll come back to this in a minute.
I've suggested to you so far that we're not as effective as we should be when it comes to fighting human trafficking in Canada, and that's not an indictment of Canada. We are more or less where other countries are. The reasons why we tend to fail to respond as well as we could are many, and I'll list a few here for you, mostly because you will encounter them again in your work and in your deliberations.
The first reason why we're not always as good as we could be in fighting human trafficking is that there is still disagreement about what trafficking is, and that's why it's important to do a lot of public education and public awareness activity, so we develop a common language, a common understanding of what the problem is, and distinguish it from other very important problems such as sexual exploitation of sex trade workers and others, which may or may not involve human trafficking. It's important that we collectively gain some clarity about those different problems and the best ways to deal with them.
Another reason why we're not as good as we could be is that we still have limited knowledge of how human trafficking presents itself in Canada, and that leads us to think we need to do more systematic investigation. Researchers need to work in cooperation with law enforcement and others, NGOs, and people who have first-hand knowledge of the issues so we get a better understanding.
The other reason we have trouble is that the phenomenon evolves rapidly. The modes of operation of human traffickers change constantly. They try to avoid detection. They find different ways. So when you turn the spotlights in one direction, they go somewhere else. There's a lot of what criminologists would call crime displacement. They use different methods. They go to different places. They use different routes. And therefore whatever you think you know about human trafficking is only true of human trafficking last week or last year, because right now they're proceeding in a different way.
That means we have to be a little more efficient at sharing information, particularly among law enforcement agencies, but not just among law enforcement agencies. I'll get back to this, but clearly this is an area where law enforcement needs to work very closely with community groups, with people who work with new immigrants, with people who work with various ethnic communities in Canada, and so on.
Another reason why we are not as good as we could be is that we have a hard time measuring the success of our efforts. So when you don't know whether what you're doing is producing results, it's quite hard to perfect your methods, and again it comes back to getting good information about what we're doing.
There's also another reason: there are still many obstacles to international cooperation. I'm not going to go into many details about this. I would be quite happy to provide more information to the committee if it wishes, but given that the crime frequently occurs across borders, preventing it and controlling it and prosecuting it presupposes very good cooperation among law enforcement agencies and legal authorities in both countries, and that is still fraught with all kinds of difficulties. We have made great progress not only in Canada but internationally with the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, to which Canada is a party. This certainly resolves a lot of those issues, but we're still very much at the beginning of this era of international cooperation. International cooperation comes at a risk, as I think all of us have discovered recently, so international cooperation is an area where we need to focus a little bit more of our efforts in future.
And finally I would say one of the reasons why we don't always succeed is that we have not always examined the assumptions we're prepared to make about human trafficking, what it is, who is involved, who the victims are, what they look like, where they come from, and all those other things.
There is a lot of mythology around this, including mythology about what organized crime is. When we think about organized crime, we think about The Godfather or a whole bunch of other stereotypical images, but in practice, organized crime, particularly as it refers to this type of human trafficking and other forms of trafficking, is a very different kind of animal. It looks more like networking; it is very loose associations of different groups across borders. We have to revise our assumptions about what organized crime is like in order to be effective at fighting this kind of organized crime.
Collectively, I would say, we are getting a lot wiser about how to best respond to the problem. Sergeant Lowe earlier talked about the importance of protection. In the federal government a lot of reference has been made to the three p's: prevention, protection, prosecution. Sometimes that could be misleading and sometimes it can help us organize ourselves, but we should never lose sight of the ultimate, paramount importance of protecting victims, because prevention, prosecution, and everything else depends upon how well we protect victims.
We've learned, for instance, that protection of victims must be paramount and must be placed at the centre of the preoccupations of all those responding to the problem. We also know that law enforcement cannot act alone and must reach out to a broad network of victim assistance and other service providers in order to offer that protection to victims.
Many of those agencies are part of civil society. Some of them don't have a long history of working with law enforcement and some of them are distrustful of working with law enforcement; therefore, we are at the stage where a lot of law enforcement agencies need to develop different kinds of networks and relationships with service providers when it comes to this particular group of victims.
I'm happy to say that the RCMP has provided leadership in that respect in Canada. In my region, where I come from in British Columbia, clearly the RCMP has not worked alone. It has brought together all community groups and has made advances in developing cooperation protocols, inter-agency protocols, and so on. That has been useful, but more of it needs to happen. And it's not an RCMP problem; there are a whole lot of other people in Canada who need to be mobilized to do their part in responding to the problem.
I'd like to say a few words, briefly, about Bill C-49. It is very important, and I'm sure you will receive a proper briefing, if necessary, on what Bill C-49 did and how it criminalized human trafficking and introduced other offences. My only regret is that Bill C-49 was not adopted earlier. There is a difference between criminalizing the behaviour as part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and criminalizing the behaviour as part of the Criminal Code. One of the main differences, of course, is that once it becomes a Criminal Code offence, it entails all kinds of responsibility for municipal police forces and regular law enforcement agencies.
The problem with the previous way of criminalizing it, through the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, was that it put the emphasis on people crossing borders. Of course, that is oftentimes part of the crime, but it creates a reflex of looking for those victims and looking for those crimes at the border. We think it's a border issue and that we need to put more people at the border.
In fact, research everywhere shows us that's the least likely place to identify victims of human trafficking. When they go across borders, most of them are being conned into believing they're being smuggled and that they're going to a brighter future and all of that. In that sense, they almost look like accomplices. They will cooperate with the smugglers and the traffickers, because they don't know yet that they are victims of crime. So the worst place to try to get victims of crime, or to intercept them, is at the border.
Where will you find them? You'll find them in your community, you'll find them in massage parlours, you'll find them on farms—you'll find them in all of those places. Who gets to those places? It is the regular beat police officer, who will bump into those cases more or less by coincidence or by accident. So it's very important that all of the police forces be mobilized to work together and to work with agencies in their own communities to deal with all of this.
So Bill C-49 was a very welcome change and very important legislation. You will probably hear people who think it should have been different, gone further, all of those other things. My own view on this is that it is too early to tell. It's a very good piece of legislation. We should have a look at how it works and what kinds of results it produces, but probably you will hear other witnesses who have different views.
Another very significant thing has happened to address a situation that was very problematic in terms of protecting victims of human trafficking, particularly those coming from other countries. There was no proper mechanism for allowing victims to stay in Canada for a period of time, so the introduction by Citizenship and Immigration Canada of temporary residence permits is another major step in the right direction.
Now there are still issues about how to apply it and when it applies, and there are still ambivalences I think to be conquered in terms of the relationship between people who work with victims and illegal immigrants and others, and law enforcement. I'm sure they'll work it out. This is a sort of new measure, but it's a step in the right direction. The committee probably should ensure that this process is monitored carefully and that we learn about how it's implemented and whether it can be improved in the next several months or years.
I'm not going to say a lot, but you will hear a lot about the difficulty in identifying victims of crime. That is really a very difficult issue always for everyone involved. Victims of crime do not necessarily come forward. They do not necessarily know early in the stage in the process of trafficking that they are victims, so how would they know to report it? Once they know they are being victimized, there are all kinds of reasons why they cannot. They are intimidated. They are victims of violence. They are afraid. They don't trust police officers. Sometimes they come from other countries where police officers are not to be trusted. So there are all kinds of reasons why that happens, and this is why it is so important to focus on that aspect. We have to work together and give ourselves good mechanisms, good means, to encourage victims to come forward and let them know that it is safe for them to do so.
I'm going to conclude here, Madam Chair, by identifying seven areas generally that I think still deserve attention in Canada and where probably your work will lead you to make some recommendations.
One is victim support services. They are currently insufficient in Canada, particularly when it comes to victims of human trafficking, and not everyone understands yet that regular victim services are not always adequate for victims of human trafficking, or victims who come from other countries, or victims of organized crime in general. It's one thing to help someone who was robbed yesterday on the street. It's quite another thing to try to help someone who has been in the clutches of a major dangerous organized crime group.
I'm not saying we need a whole set of new victim services, but we need to assist existing services in developing a capacity to assist those victims. Again, we haven't had that many cases, at least official cases, so most of those agencies are still in a learning mode and most of them would probably be telling you that they don't have sufficient resources to do a good job at this and that they need to train their volunteers, they need to train their staff, and so on. So that's one area.
Another one is support for the role of organizations that work with victims in general.
Another one is that I am not certain that Bill C-49 is being implemented as systematically and as thoroughly as it should be. I'm referring mostly in particular to training of various officials. I'm talking about public information and legal education and so on. There might be more measures that I'm not aware of, but certainly from where I'm sitting, I haven't seen a systematic approach to implementing Bill C-49, and that is required.
I would also say that another major priority is developing local strategies, because that problem is really going to be countered by good cooperation and effective relationships between agencies at the local level. There are some examples of that. I mentioned the example of British Columbia. I know that in Ottawa, also, there are some initiatives, and there are several others. That needs to happen in every community around the country, and that probably needs support, which brings me, of course, to the next part. There is a lack of resources everywhere in terms of putting those measures into place, and they will require support. These things will not happen on their own.
When you're talking about support, assistance, and administration of justice, you're also talking about provincial responsibilities. Therefore, there needs to be good, tight coordination between the federal and provincial governments and a clear road map on how they're going to work together to address this problem.
I have two more points.
International cooperation will require constant attention and more investment on our part in order to succeed. You cannot think of it broadly and try to cooperate with 197 countries, so one will have to be strategic. We do know which countries are more problematic and which ones we need to work with more closely. Therefore, this also will require attention.
On data, I mentioned several times in my comments here that we don't have information. What we need is a strategy to collect information, not just police information, but including police information, so that we all get a better sense of what we're dealing with.
Thank you, Madam Chair.