Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues who spoke before me on this issue. Let me begin by thanking the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who introduced this bill that we debated and passed unanimously at the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
I am pleased to rise in this House for the first time to speak to a bill that was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, where I began to sit only a few weeks ago. We studied this bill very carefully.
I knew the hon. Minister of Justice in another life when he was a law professor at a famous university in Quebec, since he was one of my professors. The hon. minister could not possibly remember that, as it was a few decades ago.
His great sense of justice allows us to debate today a very important bill that will end modern-day slavery. This type of slavery is practised throughout the world, but in Canada in particular. This bill could provide us with arguments, elements and possibilities to at least deter this modern-day slavery.
I do not want to rehash the debate on whether we should impose minimum sentences or not, or what type of sentence the courts will hand down in light of the bill before us, that I hope will be passed very quickly. No, I do not want to do that.
I have a 30-year career in criminal law behind me. I worked as a defence lawyer over the past 20 years or so. It is now known that minimum sentences have not resolved anything. The minimum sentence for importing narcotics was seven years. That never stopped narcotics trafficking whatsoever.
Traffickers formed groups and we saw the arrival of the Hells Angels and other such criminal gangs. I do not have any statistics before me, but in my career, five or six of my clients were charged, but never sentenced to seven-year minimal sentences. Every possibility was explored, bargaining was used, cases were argued and nothing was resolved.
Under the bill before us, we will be eliminating modern-day slavery by creating “an offence of trafficking in persons that prohibits a person from engaging in specified acts for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of another person”. This bill will put an end to all of that.
This bill will “create an offence that prohibits a person from receiving a financial or other material benefit that they know results from the commission of the offence of trafficking in persons”.
It will “create an offence that prohibits concealing, removing, withholding or destroying travel documents or documents that establish or purport to establish another person’s identity or immigration status for the purpose of committing or facilitating the offence of trafficking in persons”.
Then, as if that were not enough, it will create an offence of causing another person “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; or cause them, by means of deception or the use or threat of force or of any other form of coercion, to have an organ or tissue removed.”
To paraphrase that, which is not complicated, from this evening on—it is the hope of us all—anyone who causes another person from any country whatsoever to believe she can come to Canada and work as a babysitter or something else, and then takes away that person's passport and other papers and forces her into prostitution, will be punished. Those who do such things will have to realize that, starting this very night, the game is all over. Unless they take their business elsewhere, they are at risk of some serious jail time. We will make sure that their offences are heavily punished.
I think it is important to underscore this point: forcing someone to work or to provide services, sexual services for example, through behaviour that leads the victim to fear for his or her personal safety, or that of a loved one, if the demands are not met, is the definition of exploitation as far as human trafficking is concerned.
The legal roadblock over the years consisted in defining what constituted exploitation as far as human trafficking is concerned. That is exactly what it is.
This bill contains an important clause dealing with causing a person “by means of deception or the use or threat of force or of any other form of coercion, to have an organ or tissue removed”. It is not true that, in the future, someone who comes to our country can have a kidney removed for any reason. With this bill, this falls under human exploitation. I think it is important to emphasize that. It is one of the key points of this bill, which, as I said, will put an end to modern day slavery.
The victims are often deceived into or forced to work in the sex industry or to perform other kinds of forced labour. That will stop. It is unacceptable that, in Canada alone, more than 800 people are the victims of this new kind of slavery every year. This bill will put an end to that, starting tonight. We believe that it is essential that it be passed, and passed as soon as possible.
There have been reports and studies. The first report, the UN report on trafficking in women published in 2000, indicates that Canada is among the top 30 destination countries for human trafficking. Starting tonight, Canada, Quebec and the other provinces could be taken off that list. It sends a chill up my spine to think that Canada could be one of the top 30 destination countries for human trafficking in recent years. We do hope that this bill will be given quick passage.
Among the issues raised in this 2000 report was the fact that, more often than not, the victims do not expose their employers because, for one thing, once identified by the authorities, they will not be allowed to remain in their country of adoption in order to seek protection or demand redress.
Based on the information provided to us in committee, we believe that this bill will ensure that steps are taken so that the victims of trafficking—and I am addressing my remarks to them—are no longer afraid to expose those who have been holding them hostage or maintaining them in forced slavery for far too long.
As if this were not enough, the International Labour Organization produced a report in which it was estimated that there are at least 2,450,000 people in the world who are kept in situations of forced labour. These people are forced under physical and psychological threats to prostitute themselves or to work for little or no pay in the construction or agricultural sectors.
As of this evening, this will be a thing of the past in Canada. We hope this bill will be passed at the earliest opportunity, and we feel there is a consensus among members of the House to put an end to this exploitation, to this modern day slavery.
Indeed, the United States did pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which created new offences, but it was time for us to do the same. This is very important legislation. Bill C-49 is a major piece in the puzzle to fight organized crime. It is a good start and it has the great merit of adding to the tools needed to prosecute individuals involved in the trafficking in persons.
However, since this human trafficking is often run by criminal organizations, it becomes just as urgent to amend the Criminal Code so as to create a reversal of the burden of proof as regards proceeds of crime. This will be another issue, another piece of the puzzle. The House will deal again with this issue very soon. I am referring to Bill C-53, which we also want to be passed at the earliest opportunity. Once it is passed—and here it is the defence lawyer who is speaking—it will give police officers other means to fight organized crime, which has made too many victims in this country, particularly in Quebec.
If I may, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who is the Bloc Québécois critic on justice, human rights and public safety. My colleague has done a tremendous job regarding the two issues relating to Bill C-49 and Bill C-53. He has been working on these two issues for close to two years. At last, we will begin to move forward, one step at a time. This evening we will be making a step forward with Bill C-49.
Bill C-49, which is before us, will say three things when it is passed by the Senate and ratified by the Governor General. We know that there are two bills currently on the Prime Minister's desk that have yet to come into force. It is probably because there is a shortage of funds somewhere. However, I think that this is a false pretext. Given the budgetary surpluses of this government, the hon. Minister of Justice will be able to argue that the fight against organized crime is essential and important. We must give our police forces the means to implement the fight against organized crime.
As a result of amendments to the bill, human trafficking or profiting from human trafficking will be illegal. This affects all those involved directly or indirectly in such trafficking.
I am thinking of agricultural workers who are brought over and exploited on farms. This would carry a prison sentence. We will punish and launch legal proceedings against anyone who destroys or conceals identity documents in order to facilitate human trafficking.
In conclusion, I was extremely pleased to have taken part in the debate on this bill. The Bloc Québécois will support it without reservation. However, it will ask the Minister of Justice to ensure that this bill comes into force as soon as possible, so that we have the means to effectively and radically fight this crime.
I come from a region called Abitibi—Témiscamingue, where admittedly there is little to no human trafficking. In any case, I have not heard a great deal about it in the last 50 years. However, this phenomenon exists not only in mid-size and large urban centres in Quebec and Canada, but throughout the world.
Canada must be a leader and a model in this area. This evening, we have the opportunity to adopt a bill that will put Canada in the position to call upon other nations to follow our lead and put a stop to this unacceptable form of modern slavery in our world today. So I am calling on the House to pass this bill as soon as possible.