Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-452, on the question of human trafficking and how best to combat it. In particular, this legislation would seek to strengthen the provisions that punish exploitation and trafficking in persons.
I would like to congratulate my colleague from Ahuntsic for this bill and this very important step.
The true measure of a society's commitment to equality and human dignity is the protection it affords its most vulnerable members. And victims of human trafficking are some of the most vulnerable.
Accordingly, we must recognize and denounce human trafficking as the persistent and pervasive assault on human rights that it is, while providing increased protection for those who are most vulnerable to this massive criminal violation of human rights, namely women and children. At the same time, we must work to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure that human traffickers are held to account fully for this reprehensible criminal conduct. My remarks this evening will focus on the implications this bill would have for the justice system, while situating the debate in the broader context of how we ought to combat human trafficking.
The crime of human trafficking, as I have said many times in this House, is one of the most pernicious, persistent and pervasive assaults on human rights. According to the 2012 United States Department of State report on human trafficking, an estimated 27 million people worldwide each year are victims of various crimes of exploitation and servitude, while an estimated $32 billion is generated by this immoral and illegal trade, making it one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world today. The struggle to eradicate this crime, therefore, must certainly include legal tools to prosecute the offenders. It must also include policies to protect and support the victims while engaging in public education efforts to promote awareness of the trends and the means used to exploit and traffic the victims.
Accordingly, a holistic approach to this problem would require addressing the social factors that allow the crime of exploitation to occur in communities across our country, while working with all levels of government and community leaders to identify trends and patterns of exploitation, to communicate with the victims and to support the victims and their families during these moments of tremendous vulnerability. I commend the member for Ahuntsic for her involvement in this regard with the various stakeholders for this purpose.
To combat human trafficking, we need to do more than just impose new criminal penalties. For example, we need to correct the flaws in our immigration system because they leave temporary and foreign workers open to exploitation and abuse by their Canadian employers.
Bill C-452 makes a number of important amendments to the Criminal Code. First, it provides for consecutive sentences to be served for human trafficking convictions. Second, it grants the Canadian judiciary jurisdiction over human trafficking offences whether they are committed in Canada or abroad. Third, the bill clarifies the provisions related to human trafficking involving sexual exploitation. Fourth, it creates a presumption regarding the exploitation of one person by another. Finally, the bill adds the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons to the list of offences to which the forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
All of these proposed changes are indeed well intentioned, but some are somewhat flawed, particularly when viewed from a charter perspective. The Liberal Party will support this legislation and vote to send it to committee for further study and review in the hope that the concerns may be appropriately addressed.
I will begin with a provision that I wholeheartedly support.
The legislation expands the scope of the human trafficking provision in the code to the international arena. This is an important and most welcome change to our law. Simply put, the reach of this egregious trafficking crime is beyond our national borders and our laws must therefore reflect this reality.
For many human trafficking victims, exploitation may bring them to Canada. However, the original incident of abuse or threats made to their families occurs in far distant lands. We must seek justice not only for the final leg of this crime, but for the full scope of the abuse and cruelty inflicted on victims by their abusers.
Accordingly, while I support that provision and the provisions relating to human trafficking that include sexual exploitation, as well as extending or adding the offences of procuring and trafficking to the list of offences to which the proceeds of crime would apply, I am concerned by some other sections of the legislation. For example, Bill C-452 provides that sentences imposed upon a conviction of human trafficking are to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed and punishment for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.
I understand the well-intentioned motive behind this recommendation. My concern is that doing this could limit judicial discretion in a way that not only encroaches on judicial independence but may, however inadvertently, result in sentences that infringe upon charter-protected rights. Certainly these heinous acts should be punished severely. However, there may be situations where the imposition of consecutive, rather than concurrent sentencing is inadvisable. This is why judges should be allowed to retain their discretion in this regard, though certainly at committee we could address whether it might be best to encourage such sentences while perhaps not specifically requiring them.
As well, the bill establishes a presumption under section 279.01(3) of the Criminal Code that may be overly broad. It reads:
—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.
While one of the major issues in combatting trafficking since the crime of exploitation was first introduced in our Criminal Code has been the low number of criminal convictions for this crime, we should nonetheless be very mindful of casting too wide a net as this could raise both charter and common law concerns. Again, I am hopeful this can be addressed at committee.
Another change proposed by the legislation, which I support, modifies section 279 of the Criminal Code by enumerating the various elements of the crime of exploitation, particularly sexual services. This is an important change, in part because our own Department of Justice has found that trafficking for sexual exploitation is more prevalent in Canada than any other form of exploitation, especially in our large urban centres. By adding these new provisions in the code, we would provide law enforcement officials with additional tools to take on this challenge and better protect the Canadian public.
Let me reiterate that while it is vital that our criminal justice system be equipped to handle the full prosecution of this brutal crime, any success on this issue will only come with greater public awareness, mobilization and participation in combatting the crime to begin with. Because the perpetrators of human exploitation count on various social stigmas to isolate their victims, it is vital that we remove these stigmas and those barriers that prevent victims from seeking assistance. We must strengthen our grassroots strategy to detect and prevent human trafficking to begin with, as well as to support and protect victims in a manner that would enhance their co-operation and ability to report this abuse. As a country looking to address this challenge, we must not only seek to punish those who do harm to the innocent, we must also seek to heal and care for those who have been harmed in this fashion.
In summary, I am hopeful that the bill will be improved in committee. I applaud my colleague from Ahuntsic for bringing it forward and for her hard work on this issue, as well as that of the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. I am hopeful that by working together we can eradicate this evil of human trafficking in Canada once and for all.