Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am very honoured to to present to you today and to be here with the esteemed witnesses.
I have presented a brief, which is before you. I will make sure I stick to my timeline, so there will be only certain paragraphs I will pull from it.
I would like to focus on three main areas. First is the need for a national data collection mechanism. Second is the need for an integrated and coordinated national action plan. Third is the need to address the fact that corporate ownership secrecy is fuelling human trafficking in this country.
First, on the need for a national data collection mechanism, in Canada no national data collection mechanism currently exists to capture comparable statistics on human trafficking, and individual police services are not required to report incidents to a centralized agency. The federal RCMP has consistently identified that the available statistics severely under-report incidents of human trafficking.
The Canadian Centre to End Human trafficking is working to change this by designing and implementing the national human trafficking hotline. The Canadian hotline and its resulting data is a critical part of a necessary systems-based approach that would fundamentally disrupt and diminish human trafficking in Canada.
The hotline tool will provide data from victims and members of the public who report incidents. It will function as a critical component in a system that must include data collection across entities that are coordinated in their commitment to end human trafficking through legislative revitalization and coordination across federal entities and departments, federal-provincial-municipal enforcement and prosecution cooperation, as well as resource allocation targeting human trafficking network disruption.
The data generated will allow an understanding of diverse human trafficking typologies operating in Canada and thus will inform awareness and prevention campaigns, training of officials and service providers, corporate partnerships, gap areas, and law enforcement investigations. Sharing this cutting-edge intelligence will assist critical efforts to end human trafficking and assist victims and survivors.
Second, Canada needs an integrated and coordinated national action plan to comprehensively address instances of sex and labour trafficking across municipal, provincial, and federal jurisdictions. We understand that the federal Department of Public Safety has recognized the need to define and implement a new national action plan with the goal of addressing and ending human trafficking in Canada, and we applaud that effort.
Due to the complexity and geographic scope of trafficking operations, the disruption and eradication of such activity will occur only though a comprehensive, strategic approach, one that involves coordinated and targeted, multi-jurisdictional and multisectoral efforts.
The action plan must be supported through resource allocation to address the realities and challenges facing community organizations that assist victims and law enforcement agencies that investigate and detect human trafficking. The plan should also address comprehensive and strategic data collection, targeted policy and research initiatives, and objectives. There has already been extensive consultation done in this respect, and there is an agreement on policy, but the question is: how do you disrupt trafficking networks?
Third, corporate ownership secrecy is fuelling human trafficking in this country. There needs to be transparency on beneficial ownership in Canada. As an example, masking criminal profiteers makes it difficult to challenge, disrupt, and prosecute illicit body rub parlours, massage businesses, and holistic centres where human trafficking is occurring. Survivors of human trafficking, law enforcement, front-line service providers, and municipal policy-makers have all confirmed that individuals are being trafficked in illicit massage businesses, body rub parlours, and holistic spas across the country. These operate in all of our back yards—in all your backyards—where we live, where we work, and where we entertain ourselves.
What is unique about this form of trafficking is that massage parlour traffickers go through the process of registering their businesses as if they were legitimate. Conceivably then, it should be relatively simple to determine the basics about these businesses, such as what products or services they provide and who ultimately controls and makes money from the business. The actual or beneficial owner would in most cases be the trafficker in these instances and could be prosecuted as such.
However, in reality, the laws governing business registration are almost tailor-made for illicit massage parlour traffickers to hide behind. Neither the provinces nor the federal government requires those who set up companies to include the name of the actual owner of the business in the registration paperwork.
What is required depends on the jurisdiction. Sometimes the owner’s name is left blank or it is filled with false information. Sometimes it is filled with the name of a registered agent or someone paid to be the front person or point of contact. Sometimes the business is registered under the name of an anonymous shell company, such as another business that exists in name only but has no actual assets.
All of this obfuscation is perfectly legal. Requiring transparency around the business ownership for law enforcement purposes is key to ending traffickers' ability to hide their networks and their cash flow.
To effectively and sustainably target massage parlour trafficking, law enforcement must undertake organized crime investigations that focus on ownership by looking into money laundering and tax evasion. This would shut down entire networks, meaning that individuals who are being trafficked could not simply be moved around until police interest has calmed down. That is what happens today. Such prosecutions would not only punish perpetrators but also send a strong signal that human trafficking in massage parlours is no longer a low-risk, high-profit venture, as it is widely seen today.
Flipping the perception of the risk versus the reward of human trafficking in these and other venues is key to ending the proliferation of this crime. Unfortunately, the ability of businesses to obscure ownership, and therefore network ties, makes it incredibly time-consuming and resource-intensive, and sometimes impossible for law enforcement to undertake such investigations.
Our recommendations would include the following.
Make legislative amendments to federal, provincial, and territorial corporate statutes or other relevant legislation to ensure that corporations hold accurate and up-to-date information on beneficial owners that will be available to law enforcement, tax, and other authorities.
Assess potential mechanisms to enhance timely access by competent authorities to beneficial ownership information. We should be requiring businesses to register official operators and primary owners, such as beneficial owners and partners in the businesses, all of whom should be required to provide valid phone numbers, addresses, unique identifying numbers from non-expired Canadian passports, and non-expired Canadian provincial identification cards, driver's licences, or a non-expired passport issued by a foreign government. We should be providing municipal, provincial, and federal law enforcement with direct access to this information.
Impose criminal and civil liability for failure to report beneficial ownership information. We should hold the official operator listed on all registration records legally liable for the business, unless it can be confirmed that the listed operator is a victim who was compelled to list him or herself as an operator. We should be providing resource assistance to municipal policy-makers and law enforcement where the proliferation of these illicit spas and businesses exist.
I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have on this submission.