Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-49, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). Bill C-49 realizes a commitment made by the government in the Speech from the Throne. It reflects a continuing priority not only for the government but for me personally as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, namely the protection of the vulnerable.
It is a matter of protecting the most vulnerable among us.
No less important, this third reading debate on Bill C-49 is a reflection of all-party support for the bill, which I hope is a reflection of the broader support for the work of the government and indeed the international community in combating this scourge upon humanity, what I have referred to elsewhere as the new contemporary global slave trade.
I have always been concerned with promoting and protecting equality, and continue to do so as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. It has always been my belief that the true measure of a society's commitment to the principles of equality and human dignity is taken by the way it protects its most vulnerable members.
This is really what Bill C-49 is all about. It is about more clearly recognizing and denouncing human trafficking as the persistent and pervasive assault on human rights that it is. It is about providing increased protection for those who are most vulnerable to this criminal violation of human rights, namely women and children. It is about bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring that human traffickers are held to account fully for this criminal conduct.
Trafficking in humans is considered to be the most rapidly growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated that it generates $10 billion in annual profits for organized crime, thus ranking second after drug and firearms trafficking.
Although the clandestine nature of human trafficking makes it impossible to know the real magnitude of the tragedy, the United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 persons are trafficked across international borders each year. Others put it higher. UNICEF for example estimates that 1.2 million children alone are trafficked globally each year.
In May of this year the International Labour Organization released a global report on forced labour. This report estimates that approximately 2.5 million persons are currently in situations of forced labour as a result of having been trafficked. Of these 2.5 million persons, approximately one-third are estimated to have been trafficked into situations of forced labour and just under one-half are estimated to have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation purposes. This is the important point. Almost all of these victims, 98% of them, are the most vulnerable, women and children. The remaining one-third are believed to have been trafficked for mixed or undetermined reasons.
If we take as our starting point that one person trafficked is one too many, that this is not just a matter of abstract statistics, but behind every statistic is a trafficked human being and a tragedy of that trafficking, these estimates surely must underscore the importance of measures such as Bill C-49. Indeed this should strengthen our resolve to do all that we can domestically and internationally to combat human trafficking.
Moreover, although anyone can be a victim of human trafficking, the numbers show that women and children are the primary victims of such trafficking, a reflection of their social, economic and legal inequality, indeed of their differential vulnerability. In fact, this is how many human traffickers achieve their aims, by exploiting the hopes and fears of their victims by offering them false hope and the promise of a better life.
Most of the time, women and children are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. They end up as servants, baby sitters or drug mules, for instance. Men, on the other hand, are generally trafficked for forced labour in illegal sweatshops, or to work on farms, in abattoirs or in the construction industry.
But no matter for what purpose they are trafficked, all trafficked persons: men, women and children suffer deprivation of liberty, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including threats of violence and actual serious harm to themselves and/or to their family members.
This is why human trafficking is so often described as today's global slave trade because it is about the bonding and bartering of human beings, and battering as well, and indeed, the commodification of human beings which constitutes a pervasive and persistent assault on the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
The daily reality of trafficked victims is difficult if not impossible to comprehend, but it is perhaps just as difficult to comprehend that trafficking in human beings is even an issue today in the 21st century, and in a country such as Canada, where the constitutional protection of fundamental rights and freedoms is at the very heart of how we seek to define ourselves as a people and a society.
Bill C-49 addresses the protection of vulnerable persons and the protection of fundamental human rights only.
Bill C-49 is organized around the three key objectives identified by the international community or what we call the three P s: prevention of human trafficking, protection of its victims, and prosecution of the traffickers themselves.
Currently, the Criminal Code addresses human trafficking through existing offences that apply to trafficking related conduct such as, kidnapping, forceable confinement, aggravated sexual assaults and uttering threats. Although these existing provisions have been successfully used in trafficking cases, Bill C-49 proposes the creation of three new specific indictable offences to more effectively and comprehensively address all forms of trafficking in persons, irrespective of whether it occurs wholly within Canada or involves cross-border movement.
The main offence of trafficking in persons would prohibit anyone from engaging in the acts therein specified, such as the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or control of the movements of another person for the purpose of exploiting that person or facilitating the exploiting of that person. This new offence would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment where it involves kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or causes the death of a victim. It would carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment in all other cases.
The second proposed offence would apply to persons who seek to profit from the trafficking in persons, even if they do not actually engage in the act specified in the main trafficking in persons offence. It proposes to prohibit any person from receiving a financial or other material benefit knowing that it results from the trafficking of another person. This offence would be punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The third new offence would prohibit the withholding or destruction of documents such as a victim's travel documents or documents that establish the victim's identity or immigration status for the purpose of committing or facilitating the trafficking of that person. This offence would carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Bill C-49's innovation applies not only in the proposal to create three new specific indictable offences to address all aspects of trafficking in persons, but also in the fact that these offences are built on the very essence of trafficking in persons. No matter what form the conduct may take, human trafficking is always engaged for the purposes of exploiting its victims, whether it is by forcing them to provide labour services, including sexual services, or services as a drug mule or human organ or tissue. Everything and all of it is for the purpose of exploiting that victim.
Accordingly, Bill C-49 includes a specific definition of exploitation that reflects this reality as well as the reality that victims may be forced to engage in such conduct, not only because they fear for their own safety but because they may fear for the safety of others such as members of their families.
However, we believe there is much to be gained by creating new Criminal Code offences that specifically target this conduct and that broaden the reach of our existing prohibition to comprehensively respond to all forms of human trafficking, whether they occur wholly within Canada or whether they involve some cross-border or international dimension.
Bill C-49 will more clearly and broadly define and address the type of conduct in question that we seek to prevent and we will more clearly and strongly denounce all forms of human trafficking. Bill C-49 will enable us to more clearly and directly name and respond to this heinous crime for what it really is, namely, human trafficking. Anyone who has ever heard victims of this tragedy speak of their experience will appreciate just how important this is to them, and so too it is an important and welcome innovation.
Bill C-49 will significantly enhance Canada's domestic laws against human trafficking. This will in turn support the broader international effort to combat trafficking. On that point, on the international scene, I am pleased to note that Canada, together with the international community, continues to support and enhance international collaboration in response to human trafficking.
Canada was among the first nations to ratify the UN convention against transnational organized crime and its supplemental protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. These two instruments provide the widely accepted international framework for addressing the contemporary manifestation of human trafficking.
International protections against trafficking in persons offered by these instruments are themselves supplemented by numerous other international instruments, including the optional protocol to the UN convention on the rights of the child, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography that Canada ratified last month on September 14.
I note this instrument in particular because it is focused entirely on children, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable who are trafficked. While any form of human trafficking is incomprehensible and condemned, this is particularly true in the case of children. Behind each one of UNICEF's estimate of 1.2 million trafficked children is a child, a human face, an individual with a name and an identity, a vulnerable person who is completely dependent upon us, upon the global community, for protection of the most profound of rights, the right to life itself.
Bill C-49 is an important step forward in strengthening Canada's overall response to human trafficking. We recognize that more is required than just a strong legal framework and we are working to address the three P 's, to which I referred, across the whole of the federal government.
Over the past year, for example, a lot has been done to address the principle of prevention, including training for police, prosecutors, immigration, custom and consular officials on human trafficking. We held seminars in this regard in March 2004 and 2005, one of them being an international seminar itself, round tables involving government and non-governmental organizations to discuss prevention and best practices to address human trafficking, conferences in which I myself have participated, both nationally and internationally, and the development of public education materials including an anti-trafficking poster that is available in 17 languages and a pamphlet available in 14 languages. Both of these have been widely disseminated within Canada and through our embassies abroad through the internationalization prevention effort.
As well, we are continuing to work to provide better support and protection for the victims, including through Bill C-2, the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, which received royal assent on July 20, 2005. Bill C-2 enacted criminal law reforms that will facilitate the receipt of testimony by child victim witnesses and other vulnerable victim witnesses, including women. Once enforced, these reforms will significantly enhance the ability of the criminal justice system to respond to the unique needs of vulnerable victims, including trafficking victims.
Lastly, I would note that the federal interdepartmental working group on trafficking in persons, co-chaired by the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs, continues to coordinate efforts to address human trafficking and is currently developing a comprehensive federal anti-trafficking strategy.
I believe that this interdepartmental working group, composed of representatives of 17 federal departments and agencies, is a clear illustration of how difficult it is to come up with a complete response to human trafficking, as well as a clear indication of how committed the federal government is to beefing up its overall response to this problem.
In conclusion, Bill C-49 will significantly improve our ability to address all forms of human trafficking, including trafficking that has international dimensions, as well as trafficking that occurs wholly within our country. It proposes, as I mentioned, the creation of specific offences prohibiting human trafficking, the imposition of severe penalties to better reflect the serious nature and impact of this form of criminal conduct on its victims and on Canadian society.
Together these new offences clearly and strongly denounce trafficking in persons and send a strong signal with regard to governmental, parliamentary, domestic and international condemnation of this global slave trade. Clearer and stronger prohibitions will mean greater protection for those who are the most vulnerable to being trafficked: women and children.
I appreciate and wish to emphasize the support that all members have expressed for Bill C-49 to date. I hope we can continue the spirit in common cause and commitment to expedite Bill C-49's passage because this is not a matter for a particular party or partisan cause. This is something in which we have united together on behalf of the trafficked victims and the most vulnerable, to provide for them the prevention and protection they deserve, and the accountability in terms of bringing the perpetrators to justice where warranted.