Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
I want to start by thanking the status of women committee for tabling this report, which includes designating February 22 as national human trafficking awareness day, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today. I am sure that all of us in Parliament are united to end the scourge of human trafficking in Canada, but a day of awareness is only one step in the right direction. The other recommendations are equally important to encourage Canadians to hear from victims and survivors of human trafficking, and to raise awareness of the prevalence of human trafficking in Canada and, most importantly, to take action to combat it.
Conservatives are advocates for victims' rights and for the rule of law, and it has always been that way. In 2012, Prime Minister Harper's Conservative government brought official focus to the travesty of human trafficking and launched the national action plan to combat human trafficking, which consolidated all federal activities into one plan. Two months ago, I joined my colleagues, Senator Boisvenu and the MP for Oshawa, along with two victims' families, in support of Bill S-219, which would respect, strengthen and protect the rights of victims of crime. More recently, I participated in the ethics committee work on protection and privacy online. We heard gut-wrenching testimony from a brave survivor of online sexual exploitation. She was just 13 years old when videos of her went up on a pornographic website, and she had to fight and plead and beg to get them taken down. Conservatives continue to fight for children and adult victims of online non-consensual sexual exploitation and are calling for action to protect privacy and to empower individual ownership over personal images online.
I want to especially acknowledge our colleague, the member for Peace River—Westlock, for his unrelenting focus on victims and survivors of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and online abuse. Tirelessly and consistently, he has been working without much accolade or recognition, from a perspective of faith and care for the vulnerable, and with an unwavering belief in the equal sanctity and dignity of every human being. I suspect most people do not really know that about our colleague, or might not really have given it much thought at all, but I have gotten to know and appreciate that about him and his heart, since sitting beside him in the very back row where we started in 2015, and from his steadfast internal and external work to bring attention to these issues.
Public Safety Canada says that human trafficking is “recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing, harbouring, or exercising control, direction or influence over [a] person, for the purpose of exploitation, generally for sexual exploitation or forced labour.” It is manipulation or coercion of a person to the end of their ultimately being used. It is true that human trafficking is wide-reaching and goes beyond borders, but it is happening right here in Canada right now, and any thought that human trafficking is a foreign problem or beyond our control in Canada is false. In fact, it is bigger and more insidious than what many Canadians might think. Well-known Albertan and country musician Paul Brandt is the founder of #NotInMyCity and a board member of Alberta's human trafficking task force. He says that “Good-willed people would never imagine that this happens. It's just not on a regular, normal, functioning person's radar that there's this trade...happening in Canada to children.”
Alberta also introduced the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which came into force last May. It expands powers to protect victims of human trafficking, enables police to take quicker action and makes it easier for survivors to get protection orders. On a side note, Alberta has already declared February 22 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Knowing the full extent of human trafficking in Canada is important, but also difficult to recognize, because it is easy to conceal. The victims and witnesses are often reluctant to come forward because of threats from their traffickers, and feelings of shame and mistrust of authorities. That is why public awareness is so important. The data available from Stats Canada is only a glimpse of the true scale of human trafficking in Canada, and it is shocking. According to a 2018 report titled “Trafficking in persons in Canada", between 2009 and 2018 about 1,400 victims of human trafficking were reported by Canadian police, and 97% of them were women and girls. Nearly half of those victims were between the ages of 18 and 24, and almost a third of them were even younger, below the age of 18. They are minors; they are children. That is several hundred kids in Canada, over a span of less than a decade, whose lives were stolen from them, taken away forever, and they are just the ones we know about. There could be hundreds more who never come forward out of fear, shame or simply not understanding that the abuse they suffered has a name.
One of the reasons human trafficking is so elusive and under-reported is that the victims often know their abusers. Of the incidents reported to police, 92% of victims knew the person who was accused, most commonly a friend, acquaintance or intimate partner, and nearly half of the incidents involved other offences related to sexual services, physical assault, sexual assault or other sexual offences. Staff Sergeant Colleen Bowers with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams' human trafficking unit says that “the problem is they are such silent victims....in a really impossible situation. They are very vulnerable and controlled by these people.”
It is happening right now in Canada, in our own backyard. There are some examples that hit very close to home for many of us. Maddison Fraser left her home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia at 18 and got trapped in the sex trade. She was beaten beyond recognition and in 2015, sadly, lost her life at 21 years old when she was the passenger in a deadly car accident in Alberta. The driver was her suspected trafficker.
Between April 2016 and March 2017, RCMP officers from Nova Scotia travelled across the country for Operation Hellbender to locate human trafficking victims from Nova Scotia. The officers worked with police forces across Canada and eventually charged two men with human trafficking.
In 2016, Clancy McDaniel was drugged and abducted during a trip to Montreal with her friends. She later learned that the men were involved in organized crime, and she barely escaped with her life. She is now executive director of Students Nova Scotia and an advocate for survivors of human trafficking like her. She says, “I could have very easily been in forced prostitution, I had no choice over that. I would have been addicted to drugs and had my life stripped from me, and at that point, nobody would care what happened to me whatsoever.”
In October 2019, Project Convalesce, headed by five police departments in Canada, identified 12 victims in one of the largest sex trafficking busts in Canadian history. Thirty people were arrested and over 300 charges were laid as a result of that operation. Last November, an Edmonton couple was arrested for running a sex trafficking ring involving untold numbers of teenage girls.
Dawn Fisher was just 13 years old when she was forced into sex trafficking by a Calgary gang. Last month, she helped build a fundraising operation and told her story to raise awareness and help other human trafficking victims seek help without fear. She says, “It’s so scary because who do you go to? Do you put your life and your family’s life at risk?”
Moreover, just last month, a 20-year-old student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia was charged with human trafficking and procurement and exploitation of a 16-year-old girl in the sex trade. Recently, Calgary and Quebec police teamed up and charged two in Quebec and three men from Calgary with human trafficking. The Calgary men are scheduled for court on February 21, just a day before the proposed national human trafficking awareness day.
There is no shortage of examples and I believe all of us would like there to never be further cases to cite. Understanding the challenges and stigma that victims and survivors face is an important step in encouraging more victims to come forward, to seek help and to escape before it is too late. That is why Conservatives support dedicating a national human trafficking awareness day, as well as to hear from the victims and survivors of human trafficking, raise awareness of its prevalence in Canada and, of course, taking the most important step of prioritizing resources and law enforcement networks to take concrete action to end it.
I will close with this powerful quote by Cheyenne Jones. She was a victim of sexual exploitation 20 years ago. Today she is an advocate for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation based in Nova Scotia. She says, “Girls that have survived these horrific situations, they should be praised. Our society should be standing up and clapping when they walk into a room because they are the ultimate survivors. They've beaten death. They've done whatever they could do to survive and I'm proud to walk beside them.”
Every Canadian deserves the right to self-determination and to be in charge of their own destiny, and when criminals try to take that away, victims should be free from stigma and empowered to reach out, to tell their stories and to seek help. I will, of course, support the report introduced by the Standing Committee on Status of Women, including the three recommendations to support these brave victims of unimaginable criminal torture, psychological, emotional and physical destruction. I hope the report will receive unanimous support from all members.