Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in this important debate on Bill C-49, which is clearly on a timely topic, trafficking in persons.
A few years ago, we were concerned about cross-border crime. Moving forward, we have realized that there is now something that is just as great a concern, namely trafficking in persons. The United Nations has set up a special working group on trafficking in persons. It has determined that about 15 million people a year could be subject directly or indirectly, within various migratory flows, to trafficking or the sex trade or exploitation.
This is therefore a very important question. During my speech, I will have occasion to refer to a document on sex workers and prostitution that was provided to us in connection with our work on the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, created by the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. This document was produced by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and also the RCMP. It is a joint classified document which we obtained through our clerk. It is very interesting because it is a matter of costs and large international circuits with consequences on the human level and for national security. “National security” is used here in reference to illegal immigration into Canada.
I would like to start by thanking two fellow citizens who came to see me in September. I am speaking of Danielle Julien who works for Franciscans International, an NGO that has followed very closely the entire international migration question as well as trafficking in women and, more especially, their exploitation. Franciscans International has come up with a document that is very well done called Handbook on Human Trafficking. It explains in a very educational way the issues surrounding human trafficking. I was extremely surprised to learn that Canada had not ratified.
Today, we are talking about Bill C-49, an extremely important bill, which the Bloc Québécois supports. Our party's justice critic, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, said so this morning, and I believe the member for Québec, our status of women critic, reiterated our position. I was extremely surprised to learn that the government has not ratified the 1949 convention on the traffic of persons. It is cause for serious concern to now have a bill on such issues when Canada could have done so much more in international tribunals. A number of countries have ratified this convention, but not, unfortunately, Canada.
There are a number of tools. I want to list a number of conventions, including the one entitled “Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others”. This convention dates back to 1949, very early in the history of the United Nations, which was established in 1945. Nearly five years after the UN was created, in an already multilateral framework, member countries were taking an interest in the issue of human trafficking. Most people know, and we must admit it, that we are referring here to the trafficking of women.
It is quite incredible; I could not believe my ears. When the Franciscans came to my office in early September to talk to me about this issue, they told me that Canada had not ratified this convention. I hope that someone will explain why. I hope that the parliamentary secretary and other MPs on the government side will tell us why Canada has not ratified this convention.
I have a list here of the countries that did ratify that convention in 1949: they include Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Cyprus, Congo, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic and Egypt. A number of countries have ratified it, but Canada still has not.
Fortunately, even if Canada has not ratified the 1949 convention, it has ratified another extremely important document, the Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against transnational organized crime.
The document I referred to earlier, a joint effort by the RCMP and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provides a sort of ranking as far as trafficking in persons is concerned. We know that there are four countries in the world that might be called high immigration volume countries, and one of these is of course Canada. We receive between 220,000 and 240,000 immigrants yearly. On October 1 each year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has to disclose the planned quotas for immigrants.
I will point out in passing that Canada specializes more in economic immigration. The main interest is in independent workers, investors and family helpers. That is economic immigration and basically accounts for over 75% of those who immigrate to Canada.
So, we have four countries with a large volume of immigration: Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
Another aside: Canada and Quebec have not made the same choice as far as models for integration are concerned. Canada has opted for multiculturalism, which means that people who have chosen Canada, whether they come from Poland, Spain, Senegal, Côte-d'Ivoire or the Dominican Republic, can maintain their culture of origin but must participate in the great melting pot of the ideology that is multiculturalism.
In Quebec, because Quebec is a francophone society with a particular historical responsibility, we have not opted for multiculturalism. We have opted for a common public culture. Quebec selects approximately 40% of its immigrants. It selects mainly those who come here to work. We will select a few refugees in camps outside their own country, but essentially this is also economic immigration.
Of course, in a sovereign Quebec, we will be fully aware of the importance of selecting our immigrants. I will make another digression here. I do not want to get too far away from the issue, because this is not what my comments are about. However, one of the modern reasons why Quebec should achieve sovereignty is to able to select its immigrants. Quebec needs immigration. We have a tradition of opening our doors to immigrants and of being generous with them. It goes without saying that since Quebec does not have a fertility rate that allows for the natural reproduction or replacement of its population, it needs immigration. In a sovereign Quebec we will set up extremely generous policies to select, welcome and integrate immigrants, based however on a common public culture.
The former poet, the late Gérald Godin, who was the MNA for Mercier, and who was very appreciated in sovereignist circles, and whom the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst knew, used to say that there are one hundred ways to be a Quebecker, but that these one hundred ways all had a common denominator, namely the French language.
This is why we rejected the multiculturalism model. We are saying that one can choose Quebec, but to do so is to participate in the common public culture. That participation is achieved through a communication vector, namely the French language. That was my short digression, which of course is totally non partisan. We are all aware of the level at which our debates should take place.
So, I am now getting to the issue of human trafficking, which is an extremely important issue, at least as important as the trafficking of goods or the illegal transborder trade. The UN set up a task force in which Franciscans International, as an NGO, is recognized as a stakeholder. I looked for some figures for Canada.
I remember that when the committee was working on the issue of prostitution, we were looking for figures. It is not easy to get an assessment on such an issue.
I obtained a confidential and protected document prepared in 2002 by Immigration Canada and the RCMP. I am referring to the first paragraph, on page 6, which says: “Over a five year period, about 13% of improperly documented arrivals that came to Canada or that were intercepted en route to Canada were directly related to a trafficker or an escort”.
This means that 13% of the people who entered Canada in various ways, by air, sea or land, did not have a passport or official travel documents, and of course, did not have a visa permitting them to enter.
A little further along in the document, the RCMP and Immigration Canada make the following assessment: “If only the people arriving by airplane are considered, this proportion rises to 25.1%.”
A look at the literature on illegal immigration will show that, for Canada, it is about 10,000 people a year. This is not an insignificant number. As lawmakers, we have good reason to be concerned about this.
There is another more humanitarian consideration. We know that there are people all over the world going through upheavals in their countries: genocide, the overthrow of the political regime, famines. They are going through terrible times. Therefore they want to leave their countries. What would we do if we were in their shoes, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, or Niger, or certain countries in Africa where people cannot survive on $1 a day? We should ask ourselves the question. It is possible that we too, as human beings, would be tempted to want to improve our fate and leave our country of origin. It is not unpatriotic to want to improve one's fate.
It should be understood that in terrible situations like those I just described, people are vulnerable and put themselves in the hands of traffickers. This is why there is illegal international immigration. People take advantage of the misfortune and unhappiness of others. They demand money and hold out the possibility of coming to live in a third country. In my example, of course, we are speaking of Canada.
The document from the RCMP and Immigration Canada estimates the amount that is asked from these poor people living in anguish. I would like to quote from the document: “The fees paid by migrants to enter Canada are high. They are said to be rising. The cost depends on the means of transportation and the market. According to illegal migrants, the fees vary between US$20,000 and US$50,000.”
US$50,000 is easily C$70,000.
“Few clients are able to amass the necessary funds by liquidating their personal assets, and even fewer are prepared to risk such a large sum by paying the full price before reaching their destination. A portion of the cost of human smuggling, perhaps as little as 10% to 20%, is paid in advance. The rest is collected upon delivery to the final destination.”
Remember that we are not talking about goods here but rather about human beings.
“Partial payments of the price for smuggling may be demanded at various stages of the journey.”
That is why Bill C-49, which the Bloc Québécois supports, is so important. From now on, the Criminal Code will set out sanctions and offences. Smugglers found guilty of such a crime could face life in prison. Document forgers may easily face 10 years in prison.
When the UN Commission on Human Rights last met, for example, it mandated a special rapporteur to report before the next UN general assembly. So this is an extremely important issue that deserves the full attention of parliamentarians.
I was saying earlier that Canada has not ratified the 1949 convention. I hope that someone will tell me why. I do not understand how this bill can be adopted here, by parliamentarians, when, in a multilateral forum, a convention dating back to the early years of the UN has not been ratified.
This convention was important nonetheless, however, because it created a legal system to fight the traffic of persons and the exploitation of the prostitution of others, now called procuring, by individuals serving as intermediaries. Procuring feeds on prostitution. The convention made it a crime to arrange for or profit from the prostitution of others.
This system affects women, children and some men, but obviously this reality applies mainly to women.
Canada's ratification of the 1949 convention must be a source of concern. As Franciscans International pointed out to me, it is extremely embarrassing when NGOs are working with the UN Human Rights Commission, for example, and there is talk of a bill, like Bill C-49 or Bill C-2 in the past, yet the convention has not been ratified.
I will say something about the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. That protocol contains something of interest, something that is in fact basic: the whole issue of victim consent. This protocol is an important tool.
For the first time, this protocol gives a definition of the phenomenon which consists of abuse of authority, as well as one for victim consent. We know that traffickers often make use of threats, blackmail, constraints, kidnapping, fraud, trickery, false promises, swindles and abuse of authority. The trade exists because of these ingredients.
This protocol, which has been ratified by Canada, is one of the means that has been used where victim consent, whether freely given or invalid, cannot be used as a pretext to excuse some action by a smuggler.
In other words, the mere fact that these means have been used is sufficient in itself to bring the law into play, regardless of the victim's wish or acceptance of the exploitation.
In closing, let me say that this is a bill supported by the Bloc Québécois and dealing with an extremely significant phenomenon. The entire Bloc Québécois parliamentary team will work diligently to help it pass.