An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons)


Second reading (House), as of Dec. 2, 2022

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to specify what constitutes exploitation for the purpose of establishing whether a person has committed the offence of trafficking in persons.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2022 / 2:20 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of Bill S-224, legislation that will strengthen the human trafficking laws under the Criminal Code.

Under the Criminal Code, in order to successfully convict someone of human trafficking, two elements must be satisfied. The first is that the perpetrator recruited, transported or harboured the victim. The second is that it was done for the purpose of exploitation. This bill relates to the second element, which is that of exploitation.

More specifically, it redefines exploitation by removing the requirement that the Crown establish that the victim reasonably believed their safety to be threatened by the perpetrator. This is a welcomed change in the law that removes a barrier to successfully prosecuting and convicting human traffickers.

Moreover, it brings the Criminal Code definition of exploitation under our human trafficking laws in line with the international definition, which is the anti-human trafficking UN protocol, namely the Palermo protocol, which Canada ratified in 2002.

Before I elaborate on the merits of this bill, I want to take this opportunity to commend the member for Oshawa for his leadership in championing this important and needed legislation. The member has been a tireless advocate for the rights of victims.

I would also like to recognize my Conservative colleague, Senator Salma Ataullahjan, for introducing and successfully shepherding this bill through the Senate with unanimous support. That unanimity, I believe, speaks to the merit of this legislation.

Human trafficking is a heinous crime. It is a gross human rights violation. It is a form of modern slavery. Human trafficking is also a complex and multi-dimensional crime involving a range of criminal activities, from sexual exploitation to forced labour and debt bondage.

Human traffickers exploit some of the most vulnerable persons in Canadian society, 95% of whom are women and more than 70% of whom are under the age of 25. Indeed, it is estimated that a quarter of human trafficking victims are children.

Human traffickers profit through the brutalization of their victims by taking away their freedom and personal autonomy and stripping them of their human dignity. Human trafficking is truly a horrific crime, and it is one that is unfortunately growing in Canada.

Although it is not known how widespread human trafficking is, having regard for the fact that this is a crime that is committed in the shadows of Canadian society, police data indicates that human trafficking cases have increased elevenfold between 2010 and 2016.

Despite the fact that it is widely understood to be a widespread problem, very few human trafficking cases are successfully prosecuted under the human trafficking provisions of the Criminal Code.

I sat on the justice committee in 2018 when we undertook a study across Canada on human trafficking. We travelled from Halifax to Vancouver. One of the things we consistently heard was the difficulty, in practice, of using the human trafficking provisions to convict and put away those who commit this horrendous crime. Indeed, often prosecutors end up prosecuting the case under offences such as procuring and material benefit, which are lesser offences under the Criminal Code. The reason being is that these cases are very difficult to prove, and this is made all the more difficult by the need for the Crown to establish that the victim reasonably expected their safety to be threatened.

This is made more difficult for several reasons. First, there is more likely a need to bring in the victim and call them as a witness at the trial. Many times, human trafficking survivors, for understandable reasons, are reluctant to testify, given the trauma that they have endured, and given the fact that they do not want to relive the horrors they have been subjected to by their perpetrator under the pressures of cross-examination.

Moreover, it puts attention where it should not be, and that is on the state of mind of the victim rather than the actions of the perpetrator. From a practical standpoint in a trial context, that is made all the more problematic given the circumstances in which human trafficking survivors find themselves in, which is brutalized, having endured enormous trauma, sometimes with impediments to their memory. They may have mental health issues they are suffering from as a result of these crimes committed upon them.

This is why, under the Palermo protocol, the focus is not on the state of mind of the victim but on the actions of the perpetrator. That is what this bill would do. It would bring our Criminal Code in line with the Palermo protocol in this important regard.

I would also note that, in requiring that that fear be established, that the victim reasonably feared for their safety, it results in an overly narrow definition of exploitation. When someone is particularly vulnerable, threats of force or violence may not be necessary to control that person. There could be circumstances where, by every other measure, the victim is being trafficked, but it is impossible to obtain a conviction because it is not possible to meet the objective standard that they feared for their safety.

For all of these reasons, this bill is needed. It is, as the member for Oshawa, noted in his thoughtful speech, a relatively minor change to the Criminal Code, but one that would have a real impact in seeing that survivors of human trafficking receive the justice they have been denied, and it would give law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to use the Criminal Code human trafficking provisions to successfully prosecute and convict human traffickers as human traffickers.

I urge the speedy and unanimous passage of this important bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2022 / 2:10 p.m.
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Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, as I rise to speak to Bill S-224, an act to amend the Criminal Code, trafficking in persons, Winnipeg has once again received horrific news of the murder of indigenous women in our community: They are Morgan Harris, 39; Marcedes Myran, 26; Rebecca Contois, 24; and one woman yet to be identified. These are three additional charges for Jeremy Skibicki, who now seems to be the latest serial killer of indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in our community.

I would like to offer my love, support and deepest sympathies to the latest families and communities that have been affected by the ongoing genocide against indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. Something that has been acknowledged particularly is that my city of Winnipeg is ground zero for the crisis of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.

Their lives were precious. They were loved. They were mothers. They were sisters. They were aunties. They were daughters. I do not know how many times I have risen in the House to speak about the dire urgency of the crisis we face as targets. In this country, our lives seem to be of no consequence, either our life or loss of life. In this country, which espouses to be a beacon for human rights, those human rights have been deprived from indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people since the first contact when exploitation started.

As we debate today in the House a bill to strengthen protections for women around sex trafficking, protections for all women, we must acknowledge, when we talk about human trafficking in Canada, that certain groups are disproportionately impacted.

The Canadian Women's Foundation notes that 51% of trafficked girls were or had been part of the child welfare system, something that has been called the new residential school because there are more kids in the child welfare system now than there were at the height of residential schools. These are indigenous girls, young people and two-spirit people. It also notes that 50% of trafficked girls and 51% of trafficked women are indigenous. Over half of individuals who are trafficked, 51%, are indigenous women because there is an ongoing genocide, something we are reeling with again in my beautiful community of Winnipeg.

There is an ongoing genocide of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, and human trafficking is just one part of this ongoing genocide. Let us not forget what we have recently found out regarding the second serial killer in recent history to target our women, because there is a normalized violence and genocide occurring in this country with piecemeal approaches by government. That sends a very clear message to indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, including the zero budgetary allocation in the 2022 budget, that this is not of top urgency and priority.

I know we are here to debate the current bill, but I would be remiss at this very critical time if I did not take the opportunity to call on all members of the House to stand in solidarity together against human trafficking or the murder and genocide of indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in this country. This is a human rights crisis. This is a life-and-death crisis. We must stand together in non-partisanship, to work together to ensure that indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in this country can finally be safe. If we fail to do so once again as we debate this bill, the latest murders in my community, and I want to let members know that it is a beautiful community of wonderful people, as a result of an individual who targeted indigenous women, this genocide, will continue if we do not stand in non-partisanship.

I am calling for urgent help. I am calling for resources. I am calling on the government to come to my community and meet with the families of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls and come up with an urgent response. I am calling on all members of the House to not politicize this genocide and to just provide the resources and support needed to end this crisis of violence. Every day that this is politicized, every day that we wait, we lose another life.

I had the privilege of speaking with one of the family members of one of the late women who was identified in the latest crisis. Families deserve justice. The women's spirits deserve justice. Our communities deserve justice. We have a right to be safe. We have a right to be respected. We have a right to be honoured. That needs to happen today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2022 / 2 p.m.
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Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, today we are discussing Bill S‑224, a Senate bill that seeks to amend the Criminal Code and the section dealing with trafficking in persons.

Either this was pre-arranged, which I doubt, or it is an odd coincidence, but today is December 2, which is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and it is also the day we are dedicating to discussing human trafficking.

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery stems from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

The day we are marking today is about eradicating all contemporary forms of slavery. As my colleague from Shefford pointed out in her member's statement on Wednesday, slavery is not just something that belongs in the history books. It still exists today, but now it comes in more insidious forms.

The International Labour Organization says that approximately 40 million people are still trapped in modern forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, serfdom, forced labour, child labour and servitude, trafficking in persons and in human organs, which unfortunately continues to take place around the world, sexual slavery, the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts, the sale of children, forced marriage, the sale of women and the exploitation of prostitution.

As I mentioned, there are still many types of slavery. When we talk about trafficking in persons, we are actually talking about modern forms of slavery that are still taking place. Slavery has changed over the years, so the provisions of the law that address it must also change and evolve.

My colleague from Oshawa mentioned that, in 2002, Canada ratified the Palermo protocol, which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and seeks to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Article 3 of this convention gives an explicit definition of trafficking in persons. It states:

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

The Palermo protocol covers a lot of ground. In subparagraph 3(b), it says, and this is important:

The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

It states specifically that the way the victim felt during the commission of an act related to trafficking in persons shall not be taken into account.

The Criminal Code, which includes the offence of trafficking in persons, was amended in 2005. It was in 2005 that a section was added to the Criminal Code to deal with trafficking in persons, following the ratification of the Palermo protocol, and that is precisely what we are debating today. Subsection 279.04(1) of the Criminal Code states, and I quote:

For the purposes of sections 279.01 to 279.03, a person exploits another person if they 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.

That is precisely the crux of the problem. Whereas the Criminal Code offences that we are used to dealing with require the actus reus, which is the commission of the criminal act, and the mens rea, which is the guilty intention behind the act, this section adds a third element for the court to analyze, specifically the state of mind of the victim of the offence.

That is what this new clause would correct. It provides that, for sections 279.01 to 279.03, “a person exploits another person if they engage in conduct that...causes the other person to provide or offer to provide labour or a service” and adds the following: “involves, in relation to any person, the use or threatened use of force or another form of coercion, the use of deception or fraud, the abuse of a position of trust, power or authority, or any other similar act”. It completely abandons the concept of fear for a person's safety.

The section we are currently looking at goes back to 2005. Although changes were made to this section of the Criminal Code in 2012 and 2015, it was never changed to line up with other Criminal Code offences, which have only two constituent elements, the actus reus and mens rea.

This is a departure from what is generally accepted in criminal law and other forms of law that flow from common law, namely, the thin skull rule. This requires that the victim's situation be taken into account in cases where it is to the victim's advantage and to the accused's disadvantage. That is the principle behind the thin skull rule. It is a rule of tort that a person should be compensated even if the harm they suffer is unusually severe. For example, if you hit someone with a thin skull and they die as a result, you cannot use the fact that they had an abnormally thin skull, more so than average, as a reason to avoid liability.

When a person's constitution is taken into consideration, it should be to the benefit of that person and not that of the person who committed the offence. The proposed amendment to section 279 may be more in line with what is generally offered in the rules of common law. What is more, it is something that is already enshrined in other areas of our domestic law, namely, when it comes to refugee protection. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was also created as a result of the ratification of the Palermo Protocol.

It has already been mentioned that there is a human trafficking offence set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or IRPA, but that act does not require evidence of a victim's fear for their safety. I would like to read subsection 118(1) of the act. It says, and I quote, “No person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force or coercion.”

Once again, all we need to look at here is the commission of the act, not the way it is perceived. The member for Oshawa spoke very eloquently about that. He mentioned that, often, the victims do not even see themselves as victims.

That is the problem because, in order to prove that the crime was committed, the victims need to see themselves as victims and realize that they felt scared, which may not necessarily be the case. Victims may not feel afraid when they are in the situation because they have become so accustomed to it or they may experience post-traumatic stress only after the fact. They may be in protection mode and not feel afraid. In some cases, the victims do feel afraid, but they are unable to prove it in court. This bill eliminates the additional constraint that was imposed on victims to prove that the offence of human trafficking was committed.

It removes the burden that was needlessly placed on the wrong person by focusing on what was done rather than considering how it is perceived by the victim. We hope that this amendment will be quickly adopted at second reading when the House votes and that the bill is referred to a committee, where I hope that it will be quickly analyzed and voted on. I also hope that this will finally become part of our domestic legislation and that it will continue to be aligned with the principle of victim protection regardless of whether they consider themselves to be victims.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2022 / 1:30 p.m.
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Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

moved that Bill S-224, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague across the way. This bill is indeed a great way to end the week. Today I rise to speak to Bill S-224, a non-partisan bill that passed unanimously in the Senate on October 6.

I thank Senator Salma Ataullahjan for her collaborative effort and success in getting this bill through the Senate.

I thank the member for St. Albert for speaking today, for his support and for seconding this bill, as well as the member for Peace River—Westlock for his unending commitment to ending human trafficking. God bless him.

I want to thank an amazing community of supporters, victims, moms and dads, survivors and workers, including Lynda Harlos, Jocelyn Siciliano, Jasmine DeFina, Vanessa Falcon, Kim Miller-Sands, Lillian Fisher, Donald Igbokwe, the Durham Regional Police Service human trafficking unit, and Ms. Holly Wood who is here today.

These individuals and many more like them have been infected by a seemingly contagious affliction, which is a desire to do good and to make a difference in the lives of those most vulnerable victims in our communities. These people are heroes, and they are saving lives every single day with the work that they do.

This indeed is a rare opportunity and a rare occasion. When an MP has the opportunity to bring both Houses together for a common cause, it is truly an honour. The bill is a seemingly small bill. It is less than one page. It represents a small change, but a small change that will make a big difference in the lives of so many vulnerable people, people denied justice and people denied their human dignity.

This modern-day slavery initiative was brought to my attention by Darla, a survivor, friend and one of my constituents. As a father, her story motivated me to look for real solutions to this problem. At its heart, Bill S-224 aims to align the Canadian Criminal Code's definition of trafficking in persons with that of the 2000 Palermo protocol. Importantly, this would remove the unfair burden placed on exploited individuals who, under current Canadian law, must prove that there was an element of fear in their abuse in order to obtain a conviction in court.

I want members to pause and to think about this for a moment. A crime is committed. There is no debate whether the acts have occurred, yet under current Canadian law the victim is required to prove fear in order for a conviction to occur.

To emphasize the absurdity of this situation, let us apply this requirement to another crime. Imagine that someone I know comes up and stabs me in the back. In politics that term is used rather loosely, but indeed this crime does occur in reality. How would I prove fear in that situation? Would the offender be convicted if there was absolute proof of the crime, but fear could not be proven? I have to ask. Why do we treat this particular crime of human trafficking so differently?

Indeed, members, as I look around the House, we can agree that something needs to change. This is not justice. Human trafficking is a scourge, mostly on vulnerable young people and their families across our entire country, in my area and in yours. I am hopeful that my colleagues, regardless of their political stripe, will approach this effort on a non-partisan basis and help me secure this long-overdue change to Canada's Criminal Code.

Human trafficking does not discriminate against rich or poor and no matter one's background. My goal is simple. It is to ensure that our country and our local communities are safer for our most vulnerable young people. Who could be against that?

These victims often think their abusers are their friends and that their abusers care for them and love them. Those of us not involved in human trafficking can see that this is not the case. We see the coercion. We see the manipulation. We see the lies. We owe these victims a chance for truth, a chance for justice.

Often when these cases are brought to court, the Crown’s case depends on the victim's testimony. It may be the only evidence against the trafficker. Without the victim's testimony, there is no case. In Canada, sometimes it takes years for these cases to come to court. There the victims can be victimized again and again.

We all remember that sad case in Alberta, when a federal judge actually asked a victim in a sexual assault trial, “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?” I ask members if this is the justice system that Canadians want. I suggest that whether or not the crime of human trafficking has occurred should only be defined by the perpetrator’s actions rather than the victim's experience.

Victims should not be revictimized by the system. We owe it to victims to make this small change that will make such a huge difference. By amending the Criminal Code to reflect the international definition of “trafficking in persons”, as outlined in the Palermo protocol, we will enable the Crown to efficiently convict traffickers.

I want to talk a bit about timelines. The Palermo protocol was adopted in November 2000, 22 years ago, at the 55th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. It had 117 signatories, and guess what. That included Canada. Human trafficking is defined as “the act of recruiting, transporting, harbouring and receiving a person by means of coercion, abuse of power or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” There is nothing controversial about this.

More than 22 years have passed, yet this small but important change is still not reflected in Canada's Criminal Code. Let us not continue to make this another example of Canada's promises that never see concrete action. This bill is about protecting vulnerable Canadians from predators who exploit their victims for personal gain, and sadly, that gain is becoming greater and much more lucrative.

I will give some statistics. Human trafficking generates more than $32 billion annually and abuses over 40 million victims each year. The number of victims worldwide is greater than the entire population of Canada, and believe me, these numbers are under-reported.

Unfortunately, human trafficking is seen as a low-risk criminal activity here in Canada with a very high reward. According to Statistics Canada, less than 8% of perpetrators charged with human trafficking have ever been prosecuted. Let us think about that and also consider that very few perpetrators are even charged with this crime. Therefore, the number of those ultimately held to account for this modern-day slavery is dismally low and, I would say, embarrassing. We as a country can do better and we as a country need to do better.

I stand here today for Darla from Oshawa and countless other human trafficking survivors. I stand here today for their families and family members such as Lynda, who is an Oshawa mom of a human trafficking survivor. I stand here today for our youth and the most vulnerable Canadians. I invite all members to stand with me. I hope every member in the House supports this initiative.

I stand here for those who are being exploited tonight, right now, in plain sight, and some right outside my office doors in downtown Oshawa. This does not end at my doorstep. Each member of the House of Commons can be sure that this is happening outside each of their doorsteps as well.

My colleague from Peace River—Westlock has a statistic that puts things into perspective. I remember the first time I heard this, and I could not believe it. He said that the crime of human trafficking is happening today within 10 blocks or 10 minutes from one's home.

Human trafficking is on the rise, and it relies on abuse, coercion and manipulation. As I have said, victims of human trafficking are often convinced that their traffickers are their friends or boyfriends. Traffickers have made promises of clothes, money, work, drugs, education and even protection.

Many victims truly and naively believe that their trafficker has their best interests at heart. We know that is not true. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable for a reason, as they can resort to violence and threats to make their victims do what they are told.

Traffickers seek out young people dealing with substance abuse, traumas, addictions, abuse or homelessness. Women and girls, indigenous children, new immigrants, persons living with disabilities, LGBTQ2+ individuals and migrant workers are among the most at-risk groups.

How can we continue to put so much responsibility on these victims who have endured such unimaginable atrocities? It is time for us to take action to lift the yolk of responsibility and pain, and give victims a chance of escaping their abuser.

Senator Ataullahjan said:

Most survivors do not identify as victims as a result of manipulation and gaslighting. They can believe their trafficker cares for them. We owe them the necessary help and care. Instead, they must prove that they fear for their life on the stand, often only a few metres from their trafficker. Victims are usually the only evidence against traffickers. Without their testimony, the Crown has no case. Testimony shows that the fear-based model is the biggest issue when dealing with convictions and that the experience is more traumatizing than being forced to work in the sex trade. They must relive their nightmare during that preliminary and then at the trial.

During cross-examination, it is common for the defence lawyer to twist their words and call them a liar.

If we do not take our responsibility seriously, our duty to amend the Criminal Code, then these cases depend upon the victim’s ability to perform on the witness stand. Remember, this is the same victim who we just described as being vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation.

Some of these victims do not have the strength to fight our current system. They do not have the strength to stand up against slick lawyers and a system stacked against them. This is not justice, and it usually results in charges being dropped. We need to give victims every tool possible to allow the return of their dignity and their humanity.

The goal of Bill S-224 is to implement a simple amendment to the Criminal Code, a very small modification, that would make a huge difference in the ability of the Crown to prosecute human traffickers. There should be no more settling for a dismal 8% prosecution rate. The time to do better is now, today, while this historic opportunity presents itself.

To Darla, the moms and dads, and everyone involved in ending human trafficking, this small change can happen. The time to end 22 years of inaction is now. The opportunity will not be lost.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2022 / 10 a.m.
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Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

moved that Bill S-224, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the first time.

Mr. Speaker, the modern-day slavery of human trafficking is happening today within 10 blocks of our homes. The inspiration for this bill was brought to me by a constituent of mine, Darla, who is a survivor.

In June 2019, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-461, which was a product of meaningful consultation in our community. Although that bill did not pass, today I am pleased to sponsor Bill S-224, which would simplify the definition of exploitation for trafficking offences in the Criminal Code by removing the unfair burden placed on exploited individuals to prove there was an element of fear in their abuse.

I want to introduce this to my fellow colleagues as a non-partisan issue. I thank Senator Salma Ataullahjan for her excellent work in the Senate, and my colleague, the member for Peace River—Westlock, for his commitment to ending human trafficking.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

October 6th, 2022 / 4:30 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed the following bills to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-208, an act respecting the Declaration on the Essential Role of Artists and Creative Expression in Canada; Bill S-222, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood); and Bill S-224, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons).

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Health; the hon. member for Calgary Centre, The Environment; the hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, Taxation.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.