Evidence of meeting #70 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prostitution.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordon Perrier  Inspector, Criminal Investigation Bureau, Division #43 (Major Crime Division), Winnipeg Police Service
Sergeant Dominic Monchamp  Detective Sergeant, Multidisciplinary Investigations and Youth Coordination Unit for the West Region, Vice Section, City of Montreal Police Service (SPVM)

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, meeting number 70. According to our orders of the day, pursuant to order of reference of Wednesday, March 6, 2013, Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons) will be in front of us today, Wednesday, and Monday of next week.

Before we begin with the mover of the bill, we have two budgets in front of us. They are both for witnesses we've had for the two previous private members' bills. One is $600 for the standing committee presentation. This was for Bill S-209, the prize fights. Would somebody move that for me?

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I so move.

(Motion agreed to)

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

The other one is for Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer), which we dealt with. That was for witnesses and it was for $3,000. Would somebody move that for me?

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

I so move.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

(Motion agreed to)

Thank you very much.

Madame Mourani is here to talk to us for about an hour. We have an hour for you—so 10 minutes of introduction—from 4:30 to 5:30 on her Bill C-452.

The floor is yours, madam.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to greet all my colleagues and thank them for allowing me to speak on this very important bill.

My presentation is divided into two main sections. During the first one I will explain what led to the bill. Mainly, I want to tell you about the thought process for the bill. In the second part, I will focus on the various clauses.

First, this bill was created in three main steps over a year and a half. It took a long time to develop. My objective when I began was to understand the perspective of the people on the ground. The first step was therefore to meet with specialists on the ground who were in direct contact with victims of the trafficking and procuring of persons and with traffickers and pimps. This meant groups working with victims and police.

My objective in collecting this data was to understand legislative needs. Of course, there are other needs, such as awareness campaigns, resources for police investigations and resources for victims. In fact, there are very few shelters. We are in desperate need of shelters in Quebec. However, I was also interested in the legal aspect of this issue. Our efforts led to some very interesting points, which I will present later.

The second step after data collection was to translate these needs into a bill. I worked with our legislative drafters here at the House and we submitted a draft bill.

Finally, I went back to the partners we had consulted to show them the first version of the bill and see if there was anything to improve, change and so on. The bill was then presented to other groups that were not necessarily involved in its creation and development. We wanted to know what they thought to see whether there were any problems with the bill on the legal front, for example. I therefore met with members of the Quebec Bar. I do not remember the exact number of criminologists who were at the meeting, but there were a number of them. If I remember correctly, the consultation was in 2010. I presented the bill and it was very well received.

Bill C-612 was then tabled on December 15, 2010. It went through second reading on March 24, 2011, but unfortunately died on the order paper because of the election.

After the election, I again tabled the bill after making a few adjustments. It was sent back to the legislative drafters because, of course, my colleague Joy Smith had tabled her own bill on this topic. Her bill contained some provisions that were also in my bill. For example, extraterritoriality was removed from Bill C-452 even though it had been part of my original bill.

So the bill was sent back to the legislative drafters and a new version of it was produced with a few changes. I would say that about 95% of Bill C-612 is still there. The bill was tabled on October 16, 2012, and passed second reading in March. I believe it is important to mention the groups that worked on this bill because this is their bill. I am simply their spokesperson. The Conseil du statut de la femme requested to appear before the committee and also submitted a document on this topic.

I consulted police experts at the SPVM. Their work on the bill involved the moral aspect and the sexual exploitation of children aspect. I also consulted the Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale; the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, better known as AFEAS; the Regroupement québécois des centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel; the Regroupement québécois des CALACS; Concertation-Femme; the Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, which I believe will also be appearing before you; the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-victimes; the Collectif de l'Outaouais contre l'exploitation sexuelle, which is with us today; the diocèse de l'Outaouais de la condition des femmes; Maison de Marthe; and, of course, the YMCA of Quebec.

These groups have asked to be heard during the committee's proceedings. I really want to thank them for the work they have done for over a year and a half. They continue to promote this bill. I want to give a big thank you to all of these groups.

I do not know how much time I have left, Mr. Chair. I have many things to say.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

You have another five minutes, madam.

April 29th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Fine.

One of the interesting things that came out of my consultations is that prosecutors, and sometimes even police officers, often tended to believe that human trafficking was international. When women cross the border to come to Canada, that was treated as trafficking, but when girls from Montreal ended up in Quebec City or even in Niagara, that was considered procuring. For trafficking, it depended on the prosecutor and the police officer.

To make things clear for everyone, I added the following specifications to subsection 279.01(1): whether it is in a domestic or international context, as soon as someone recruits, transports and so on, it becomes a matter of trafficking. Police officers will be appearing on this later. We know that trafficking is very widespread within Canada. In my opinion, it is much more widespread than international trafficking.

Girls from Quebec unfortunately find themselves in Niagara, in strip clubs or brothels. Girls from Montreal end up in Quebec City, and vice versa. Girls from Chicoutimi end up in Montreal and girls from British Columbia end up in Toronto or elsewhere. Human trafficking happens within the country and it concerns all of us, whatever the provinces concerned. There are no borders.

Another very important point that was often raised during discussions that I held with these people is, of course, the definition of exploitation. Section 279.04 of the Criminal Code concerns exploitation. There are provisions on organ trafficking and forced labour, but trafficking for sexual exploitation is not clearly defined. I therefore introduced a specific provision on sexual exploitation. It is subsection (1.1), following subsection (1), which concerns offering or providing labour, etc.

This definition was prepared very carefully to respond to all situations that could arise. Furthermore, it is practically taken verbatim from the Palermo Protocol, which targets human trafficking and transnational crime, and which Canada ratified on May 13, 2002. I think that with this addition, we clarify things and all of the dimensions of the term “exploitation”.

Forfeiture of the proceeds of crime is another very important point that was raised. People who work in policing and prosecutors spoke to me about it a lot. Trafficking is a very profitable crime because it is extremely difficult to prove under the current code. In addition, it involves very few risks. With drug trafficking, the drugs have to be bought and so there is the risk of being caught. But for this type of trafficking, the guys just have to recruit girls. To do so, they can use manipulation or seduction. In fact, what is called “grooming” is not done right away. It can be slow or fast, depending on the traffickers. Then, these girls are raped. They are gang raped. They are tortured and their family is threatened. After that, they make their appointments on their own. They are so terrorized that they do not even have to be forced to do so.

A girl can bring in a lot of money, depending on her looks and her age. The younger she is, the more she brings in. I have met, unfortunately, girls who had started doing that at age 12. A girl can bring in about $280,000 per year. Twenty girls bring in $6,552,000 per year, and 40 girls $13,100,000 per year. These are figures from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here, I am not just talking to you about low-level street prostitution. I am talking about a group of things, notably strip clubs. What's more, the SQ estimates that 80% of strip clubs in its jurisdiction belong to organized crime, under front men. We are also talking about massage parlours, which are popping up like mushrooms just about everywhere. I do not know if that is the case everywhere in Canada, but I can tell you that it is in Montreal. In my riding, they are already popping up like mushrooms.

There are also escort agencies and bawdy houses that are too numerous to count.

Paradoxically, confiscating the proceeds of crime is done through drug offences and any offence associated with organized crime. If we do it for drugs, it is high time we did it for human beings, because that is even worse. Slavery is worse than drug trafficking. In fact, all of that is described. Clearly, selling drugs is bad, but selling human beings and treating them like merchandise is repugnant. It is high time for this to stop being lucrative for pimps because at this time, it is quite lucrative. If we seize their big cars and big houses, they may think about it twice.

You said I had two minutes left, so I will be able to tell you more during questions.

The other issue is presumption. Presumption is a fundamental aspect. This bill contains two important elements: presumption or what is known as “reversal of proof” and “consecutive sentences”. That is fundamental for victims. In fact, it was one of the most important issues raised by victims' groups and the police. It was discussed a great deal.

Currently, the Criminal Code is drafted in such a way that the burden of proof rests entirely on victims. Indeed, we know that without their testimony, it is extremely difficult to bring someone to trial. When we are dealing with adults rather than minors, it is even worse. You should know that trafficking victims are quite reluctant to testify. These women have been through hell. They are experiencing major post-traumatic stress. The fact of seeing their attackers again, talking about everything that happened and retelling their horror stories prevents them from testifying, since, quite often, they are afraid their attackers will get out of prison. They wonder what they will do to them. It is extremely difficult to send someone, whoever it may be, to testify after having been victimized by one of these networks.

In closing, I would like to say something about the reversal of the burden of proof. If my colleagues wish, I can tell you more about consecutive sentences a bit later. Several victims' groups asked me to stop imposing the burden of proof on victims as is currently the case for procuring. In fact, presumption, in cases of procuring, does exist in the Criminal Code as we speak. So let us do so, not only to help the police and provide them with tools, but also to relieve victims and give them justice.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. If you wish, I will tell you about consecutive sentences later on.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

Thank you, madam.

Our first questioner is Madame Boivin from the New Democratic Party.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Ms. Mourani, thank you for your presence today.

Your bill deals with several issues that are of great concern to us. We have discussed it at great length since I have become the justice critic for my party, as well as when I introduced the bill sponsored by our colleague, Ms. Joy Smith. Naturally, any actions that could eliminate human trafficking are desirable. I cannot think of anything more degrading.

That being said, we must still consider the legal aspects of the issue. I know you worked with the legislative drafters. I am quite concerned by this issue because if we enact legislation that will be overturned in court because it violates the charter, we will be no further ahead and back to square one.

What measures have you taken, on top of those undertaken with the Quebec Bar Association, to make sure your bill does not contravene the charter, especially, as you said, with respect to the reversal of proof, presumption and consecutive sentences? Like you, I do not find it difficult to understand that consecutive sentences already found in the Criminal Code certainly exist for very serious crimes. It could certainly be said that human trafficking and procuring are also very serious crimes.

Have you had any consultations about this? What replies did you receive from specialists?

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

The answer is yes, because that was one of the first questions we asked ourselves. We wanted to know if it was constitutional.

As to the legislative drafters, I received no such warning. As you know, if one is drafting a bill that may contravene the Constitution, one is told.

Furthermore, the Quebec Bar's criminal lawyers also examined the issue. They advised us that this already existed for procuring. However, there are pending cases before the court, we cannot disregard that. Anything can be challenged, by the way. Anything that is found in the Criminal Code can be challenged. We've seen that in the Bedford case which is now before the Supreme Court and which deals with several provisions.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

That was my next question.

In your bill, you included the concept of internal trafficking.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Yes.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I'm finding it a bit difficult to see the difference between that and prostitution as we know it. I am thinking here of the case that is currently before the court. I was wondering whether adopting your bill could short circuit the decision in the Bedford case. We are all awaiting the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on this subject.

I am trying to see, within your bill, a concrete nuance between procuring and internal human trafficking. I wonder whether it would be better to amalgamate sections 212 and 279.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

We do not have the exact numbers for Canada, but the UN has done a very good job of determining them: 80% of trafficking victims are used for prostitution. We can only work with what we have, in this case the Criminal Code. Things will evolve depending on the Bedford decision and the government's response to it. Indeed, the government will have to react. We saw that the government pursued this case all the way to the Supreme Court. It clearly does not agree with the decision. Depending on the Supreme Court decision and the government's subsequent response, an adjustment will have to be made. However, for the time being, all we can do is use what we have, that being the Criminal Code. This is what we have done.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Am I mistaken in saying that the notion of “sex trade worker”, that we hear in some circles, would not apply in the context of a bill like this one? I do not know if you have spoken to representatives from Stella, for instance, or others who take the opposite stand. Feminist groups are somewhat divided on the question. We are all aware of this.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Yes, absolutely. In fact, I would say that this bill really deals with trafficking in persons. Do you understand?

You are right on one front. If there were legislation that clearly expressed Canada's position on prostitution, I believe all other legislation would align with that vision. There are two schools of thought currently. There are those who favour legalizing prostitution, with everything that involves, they use words like “sex work” and almost refer to unionization. On the other hand, you find people who call for the abolition of prostitution. They use words such as prostitute, procurer and pimp.

I personally am in favour of abolition because I am of the view that this is never work, but rather exploitation.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

At least it is clear.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

I have always been quite clear.

I can tell you that in this bill, there is a slight distinction between domestic trafficking and prostitution, and that is the notion of transport. In the definition of trafficking we find the terms recruitment, transportation, transfer, etc. It is a slight distinction. That said, you are right in saying that domestic trafficking is mainly prostitution. However, there is also forced labour. Do not forget that trafficking also covers forced labour and organ trafficking, a problem we fortunately do not have in Canada, at least not to my knowledge.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

Thank you, madam.

Our next questioner, from the Conservative Party, is Madame Smith.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you very much.

Thank you for coming to committee, Maria. Congratulations on your work on human trafficking.

Bill C-452 will add heavier penalties to human trafficking offences by requiring the imposition of consecutive sentences for engaging in this type of terrible conduct, in my opinion. It's the kind of thing we don't want in this country.

Do you agree that penalties for this type of offence should be severe, and if you do, why?

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Absolutely. Because this is a heinous crime.

We sometimes forget that slavery exists in this day in age. We remember the African slave trade. However, trafficking in persons follows the same path as that slave trade. Trafficking in persons also includes children. We should never forget this and there is no need to go to Thailand to see it.

I will give you an example. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada has found that the average age of people entering prostitution is 14.

As far as I am concerned, the crimes we are dealing with are appalling and should lead to harsh sentences. Not only would consecutive sentences allow for harsh penalties, but they would allow for broad judicial discretion.

I have often heard people say that consecutive sentences might prevent judges from being able to decide on sentencing, which is false. In fact, I could send the committee, if it so desires, a copy of the legal writings that exist in this area. For instance, François Dadour, in his 2007 publication entitled De la détermination de la peine — principes et applications, explains how to proceed when imposing consecutive sentences. His way of expressing it is quite interesting. He shows the judges must take into consideration the totality principle. So, this means that in establishing various sentences for various offences, the totality principle must be considered. This is not about mandatory minimums the judge must impose.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you for that answer.

I think we got a little bit off track.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Fine.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

I'd like to talk more about the way young people are coerced and misled, because I don't think the public understands. The perpetrators come on as their friends.

My question was: do you agree that penalties should be very severe, and if so, why? What I would like you to talk about is the way the kids are lured—they're in it before they know—and what happens once they are separated from their support systems, their families and friends, people like that. In my opinion, the coercion and the deception is a huge part of why very vulnerable youth get caught up in this.

Do you want to comment on that?