Madam Speaker, I wanted to participate in the questions and comments but I was not recognized even though I stood five or six times to ask a question of the Liberals. However, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton—North Delta to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-49, an act to amend the Criminal Code in respect to trafficking in persons.
The proposed amendments would create a few new indictable offences to specifically address human trafficking.
The first offence, trafficking in persons, prohibits a person from engaging in specified acts for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of another person. This offence would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment where it involved kidnapping, aggravated assault, sexual assault, or even death.
The second offence would prohibit anyone from receiving financial or other material benefits resulting from the commission of a trafficking offence. It would be punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
The third offence would prohibit the holding or destroying of documents, such as identification or travel documents, for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of a trafficking offence. It would carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
Human trafficking is a growing problem that demands urgent and substantial action from the government, which we have not seen for the last 12 years.
According to the United Nations, over 2.4 million people, the vast majority of them women and children, are victimized each year. Human trafficking is now the third largest illegal trade in the world behind weapons and drugs. The penalties have been minimal so this trade has been growing. With annual profits of close to $12 billion on average, organized crime has moved into the trade and has become a dominant force.
Canada is not immune to human trafficking and in fact has been identified as a major transit point and destination for human trafficking. Last year the RCMP estimated that at least 800 people are trafficked into Canada annually, and that an additional 1,500 to 2,200 people are trafficked through Canada into the United States. Some experts believe that the actual numbers are much higher, but the nature of the crime makes it impossible to say definitively how many people are involved. We can say, however, that it is a serious problem.
One of the major root causes has been ignored in the debate that I have listened to today, and that is that the immigration system in this country is in a mess. There are long delays. There is a long queue of people waiting. Some of these people have been waiting for up to eight years to be interviewed and have their cases processed.
For example, in the independent category, in some countries the waiting period is 66 months before someone can be first interviewed. Married couples are separated for a long time before they are reunited. Similarly, parents and other family members have to wait a long time. Visitor visa cases are not being dealt with properly.
The system is being abused. I am not saying the system encourages human trafficking, but why are we letting this happen? It is occurring because the system itself is flawed and is not working the way it should. As a result, the system is vulnerable to abuse because the front door of our immigration policy is not open and therefore people are coming in through the back door. The Liberal government has made promises to address the problem, but for the last 12 years it has not been able to keep any of them.
I would say that these legitimate people, who the system was meant for, are given the run around, are not allowed to come through the proper channels and are being abused by those people.
My province of British Columbia is particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. The United States state department identifies British Columbia as an attractive centre for East Asian traffickers who smuggle South Korean woman through Canada to the United States. Organized crime groups have targeted Vancouver because of our immigration laws, benefits available to immigrants and the proximity to the United States border.
According to the state department, at least 15,000 Chinese entered Canada illegally over the last decade, many of them paying thousands of dollars to smugglers only to end up working as indentured servants or even as prostitutes. Asian women and girls who are smuggled into the country are forced into prostitution regularly. Traffickers use intimidation and violence, as well as the illegal immigrant's inability to speak English, to keep victims from running away or informing the police.
Bill C-49 is not entering into a legislative vacuum. In June 2002, a specific offence against human trafficking came into force under section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The current law provides for fines of up to $1 million and life imprisonment. Section 118, however, deals with human trafficking across our international border from a border integrity angle.
In contrast, Bill C-49 would deal with trafficking both within Canada and across Canadian borders. Although anti-trafficking legislation has been in place for three years, the first ever charge under the law did not occur until this past April. A Vancouver businessman faces human trafficking charges after police answered a call about a violent incident at the businessman's massage parlour. One charge in three years is a rather meagre result.
Detective Constable Jim Fisher, with the Vancouver police intelligence section, confesses that Canada has not come to grips with what it takes to properly police this human trafficking that has been happening for so long. We can have the best laws in the world but if we do not place enough resources into enforcement the laws will mean nothing. That is the case with human trafficking. Our enforcement of the current law is weak, as demonstrated by this one charge.
Canada is struggling to identify its trafficking victims inside secret migrant smuggling operations.
We will remember that the Auditor General's report seriously criticized this particular instance: 36,000 illegal entrants into this country are missing in action and cannot be traced; and 60% of the people who come to our ports and apply for refugee status go before our refugee officers without any documents and no identification but we all know that when they boarded their plane for Canada they had some sort of document. However once they land in Canada and appear in the lineup applying for refugee status they have no documents.
We must use anti-trafficking laws to vigorously increase investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers. However that will not happen with the government which insists on starving our law enforcement agencies of the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
As a member of the Subcommittee on Organized Crime, as well as a member of the citizenship and immigration committee in the past, I became familiar with many of the problems facing our country. It has become clear to me that the Liberal policies are undermining the credibility of the criminal justice system. The government has given us a system in which even soft sentences are only partly served and that fails to protect citizens from crime.
The human trafficking aspect is a lose-lose situation for everyone except the human traffickers who are making a profit. It is bad for our country, bad for our society, bad for our communities and bad for newcomers who could have used the front door rather than using the back door and paying huge amounts to the snakeheads or to the human smugglers.
Who is responsible? The weak laws that are not being enforced by the government.
The recommendations of my colleagues and myself on the committee were essential for tackling organized crime but were ignored by the government and are gathering dust somewhere on a bureaucrat's desk.
The Liberal government has had 12 years to deal with this issue and it has failed. It is the Liberal record of all talk but no action that has put us in this abysmal situation. It is essential that we have tough laws. We need to give the police and law enforcement agencies what they need to carry out their jobs.
The amendments contained in Bill C-49 are comparable to laws passed recently in other jurisdictions.
In July 2004, the United Kingdom passed a new law clamping down on traffickers by introducing a new offence of human trafficking for non-sexual exploitation with a maximum penalty of 14 years and making the offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker a “triable either way” offence subject to unlimited fines.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the trafficking victims protection act which, among other things, created new laws that criminalized trafficking with respect to slavery, involuntary servitude, peonage or forced labour, and increased prison terms for all slavery violations from 10 to 20 years and added life imprisonment where the violation involves the death, kidnapping or sexual abuse of the victim.
In this situation, the victims need protection from the government. Our laws should be such that they should prevent these things from happening, there should be enough deterrents in place and there should be enough resources for the law enforcement agencies to carry on with their jobs but, at the same time, the victims must be protected so that we are fair to all aspects of the law.
Surveying the international scene, it is clear that the time is ripe for tough new human trafficking legislation.
Trafficking in persons has been described as a modern form of slavery. It is a serious human rights violation and is the fastest growing form of transnational organized crime. The profits are huge and the penalities are minimum. It is imperative that Canada acts to stem the growth of this serious crime.
I therefore welcome Bill C-49. It is a small step in the right direction. The bill would bring Canada into line with the international commitments. The bill would address a serious global issue. However the government must not sit on its laurels. Without serious penalties for these serious crimes, the exploitation and abuse will continue.
Bill C-49 speaks of tough maximum sentences. The serious problem with the government is that it talks about tougher maximum penalties but it means nothing because the judicial system, the lawyers, will never hand out those penalties.
Bill C-49 says nothing about mandatory minimum sentences. We need mandatory minimum prison sentences so that those who violate the Criminal Code should be behind bars, should suffer, or at least serve some time and minimum penalties should be imposed.
As we have seen with this existing law, the resources must be available to enforce the law. Only then will Canada be able to start to effectively stamp out human trafficking in this country.
As a nation, it is our responsibility to seek a solution to this problem in order to protect the human rights of all people, from all backgrounds, no matter what their nationality might be.
As lawmakers in this country, it is our responsibility to clean up the system which the government has failed to do for the last 12 years. Our immigration system should be our economic backbone, as well as supporting growth in this country. The immigration system is supporting the manpower needs and the skilled labour that we need. The system is so polluted that it is working only for the human traffickers and not for the legitimate immigrants who want to come to this country and make significant contributions in many ways.
The question of the recognition of foreign credentials did not come to the floor of this House until I brought forward a motion many years ago which the Liberals failed to support. We have qualified people coming to this country to serve, contribute and make positive economic contributions in socio-cultural ways but instead are being employed in menial jobs. Would we expect someone with a Ph.D. or another degree to work at a gas station or drive a taxi? We allow loopholes in the system that have not been taken care of in the past.
On the weekend I attended a wedding reception. Many of the guests who were supposed to join the family on that auspicious occasion could not get their visitor visas. When we inquired about the situation we found out that there were bogus reasons. No legitimate reasons were given and even the income of the sponsors was not properly entered into the system. Some zeros were missing in the income figures. Naturally, the arbitrary criteria did not allow the respectable family members to join the celebration.
We hear similar stories from members of Parliament from all parties. They hear these stories when it comes to funerals.
What do those people do when they are barred from attending family events? They naturally will find some other means to come to this country, such as abuse their ministerial permit or use political influence.
Bill C-49 is a step in the right direction. All the law enforcement agencies must be given enough resources. The laws should be tougher so that we can curtail the violations to the system and the abuse of the system, but on the other hand open the front door to immigration so that legitimate people can come through the front door.
I remember an interesting story. When I was a member of the immigration committee I mentioned this concept of the front door and back door. I said that the back door was closed long ago. When the former minister of immigration was speaking to Bill C-11 in the House at that time, she looked at me and said that the bill would close the back door but that it would open the front door. Neither the front door nor the back door is open now. Instead, the government has installed a revolving door.
I urge the government during the short time it will be in office to clean up the system. The government needs to do whatever can be done to make the immigration system work and stop human trafficking forever.