Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back in the House and to address Bill C-49 as the justice critic for the official opposition.
The official opposition agrees that trafficking in persons is a modern form of slavery and is a serious human rights violation. The United Nations has reported that human trafficking is the fastest growing form of transnational organized crime. It is little wonder. Local organized crime organizations are drawn to the industry because of the enormous profit potential and the relatively low risk of detection. This is a booming industry that is run by powerful, multinational criminal networks who are well funded, well organized and extremely adaptable to changing technologies.
The United Nations estimates that there are over 700,000 people who are trafficked annually on a worldwide basis, 80% of these people being women and 50% of them being children. Revenues generated globally from trafficking are estimated at approximately $10 billion American. Most victims are forced into commercial sexual exploitation as well as involuntary servitude or debt bondage. Others may be exploited through hard labour in some countries. Children are trafficked to work as soldiers.
Trafficked persons are often duped into their new profession, deceived with seemingly legitimate employment contracts abroad or indeed marriages abroad. Others are simply abducted. Victims are often subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Although there are no hard statistics because of the difficulty in tracing these crimes, in Canada the RCMP estimates that approximately 600 foreign women and girls are forced into the Canadian sex trade every year. That number of course is increased when one includes the number of individuals forced into other kinds of labour.
While Canada has a relatively good record on the international stage in terms of efforts to stem the incidence of human trafficking, there is still much work to do. In June of this year the United States state department reported that British Columbia had become an attractive hub for east Asian human traffickers who smuggle South Korean women through Canada to the United States, in large part attributable to the fact that South Koreans do not need a visa to enter Canada.
While trafficking is clearly a global problem that does not respect borders, enforcement is for the most part a domestic issue and Canada needs to take a much more active role in terms of ensuring that this international plague is not increased within our own borders.
I would like to quote Canadian journalist, Victor Malarek, who has written and researched extensively on the global sex trade. He said, “If a country is to be judged on how it deals with this scourge, that judgment must be based on the action it takes to eradicate it. The only thing that will send these thugs scurrying back into the rat holes is the full force of the law -- unwavering prosecution, heavy prison time and confiscation of all profits amassed on the backs of these women”.
I could not agree more with Mr. Malarek. I think though that one then has to measure his observations, the studies that people like Mr. Malarek and other agencies have done and compare them to what Bill C-49 would do.
What the bill would do in many respects is nothing new. It simply would codify in a more succinct fashion existing laws. Yes, it does focus on the issue of human trafficking, but there already are many provisions in the Criminal Code that are applicable to these particular crimes.
Currently the Canadian Criminal Code contains no provision to prohibit specifically trafficking in persons. although in the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act it did bring in some measures to combat this crime. Specifically, section 118 of the act prohibits bringing anyone into Canada by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force, or coercion. Again, many of these laws already exist. Bill C-49 would simply codify and focus the law in this respect.
Bill C-49 goes beyond the current focus on immigration. The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code in Bill C-49 create three new indictable offences to specifically address human trafficking. The first contains the global prohibition on trafficking in persons. The second prohibits a person from benefiting economically from trafficking. The third prohibits the withholding or destroying of identity, immigration or travel documents to facilitate trafficking in persons.
In addition, the legislation also ensures that trafficking may form the basis of a warrant to intercept private communications and to take bodily samples for DNA analysis and permits inclusion of the offender in the sex offender registry.
Simply saying that we will permit the DNA taking or the inclusion in the sex offender registry is not enough. We know that there are numerous loopholes in both the DNA legislation and the sex offender registry. For example, the DNA legislation pales in comparison to the efforts that the British have taken. In Great Britain there are about 60 million people. There are approximately 3 million people in the British DNA database. In Canada, with a population of 30 million people, approximately half, we only have a database of about 70,000 people. Is it because we are so much more law abiding? I would suggest not.
In fact, what is the true case is that over 50% of even the most serious individuals convicted of offences are not being required to provide DNA samples. Quite frankly, this is a deplorable state of affairs. We cannot blame this particular legislation, but we can blame the government for refusing to put in the kinds of steps that are necessary to make our DNA legislation as effective as American or British legislation.
Rosalind Prober from Beyond Borders recently contacted me to talk about the problems with the sex offender registry. If people go to the Beyond Borders website, they will see many of the sex offender loopholes contained in it.
One of the things our government allows is for convicted sex offenders who are on our sex offender registry to leave the country for up to 14 days without giving any notice. These individuals, of course, are going to other countries exploiting youth and women and our government does absolutely nothing. That is only one small example of where the government could actually be taking steps to prevent the abuse of people in other countries by Canadian citizens and yet it simply refuses to do it.
What is important to note as well is that Bill C-49 also expands the ability to seek restitution to victims who are subjected to bodily or psychological harm. I want to talk about how one collects restitution in the Canadian justice system. It used to be that prior to the 1996 amendments to the legislation that the court would enforce restitution. Now, thanks to a bill the Liberals brought in, if one wants to enforce a restitution order, one has to go to court which issues a judgment. The victim gets a judgment. Instead of the court enforcing it through the criminal process, the victim gets a judgment which he or she has to enforce it through the civil process.
There is the spectre of immigrants or other people who may not be as knowledgeable of our legal system or are intimidated by our legal system asking gang members for restitution. Can anyone imagine the ludicrous nature of this kind of law where we put the burden on the victim to collect these restitution orders instead of doing it as the courts used to? The courts used to enforce these orders. Saying that we are going to seek restitution and allow the victims to get restitution is absolutely ridiculous.
Can anyone imagine a poor, little old lady from the north end of Winnipeg going up to the Manitoba Warriors trying to collect a restitution order? That is a sample of the ludicrous provisions we have in legislation. They make great sound bites but they do absolutely nothing.
The other point is that we have new provisions for maximum sentences. Some are 5 years, some are 10 years and some are life imprisonment. The point we have emphasized over and over again is that when Parliament sends direction to the courts about increasing sentences, the courts are very clear in not following those directions. They simply do not follow them. The courts continue to impose the sentences they have always imposed because they have said that the overall direction from the government is not to send people to prison. Instead of enforcing new sentences, all the courts are going to do is look at the general policies set out in the Criminal Code which basically say to divert criminals from prison.
There are many situations where diversion is a good thing, but we know that in these kinds of situations it is not a good thing. These individuals are entitled to house arrest or conditional sentences as they are called in the Criminal Code.
We could compare sentences in Canada to sentences in Great Britain when individuals are actually convicted there. Members should read Victor Malarek's book in terms of the sentences that are imposed in Great Britain and the United States. The problem is that in Canada we simply do not have any mandatory prison sentences that individuals will face if they are convicted. This particular government is fond of saying that there is no evidence demonstrating that mandatory minimums work.
I will just mention for a moment marijuana grow ops. I spent a lot of time this summer in the lower mainland in British Columbia where there are an estimated 8,000 marijuana grow ops. Two days ago I was on a street of 25 houses where there were seven marijuana grow ops including one meth lab and one MDMA lab. This is an area with 8,000 marijuana grow ops, yet the government says mandatory sentencing does not work.
Whereas Canada has hundreds of cases going through the courts where individuals essentially receive a few thousand dollars in fines for operating multi-million dollar grow ops, in the United States, at the same time, there are three or four actual prosecutions because grow ops simply do not exist there to the extent that they do here in Canada.
The difference is that when individuals get caught in the United States for manufacturing methamphetamine or MDMA or getting involved in grow ops, those individuals will go to jail and will go to jail for hard time. Firefighters and police officers who have to raid these places and expose themselves to dangerous chemicals are protected, never mind the neighbourhoods that are subjected to this horrible abuse. Yet the government keeps on saying mandatory minimum sentences do not work.
We know for sure that the policy of the government of allowing these hardened criminals who are putting poison into our children's veins does not work. They are putting poison into our children's veins and they are getting house arrest. The government says that works, but I beg to differ. The Liberal government is killing our children and it does not seem to care.
This bill is only giving lip service to the concept of stopping those who want to exploit women and children no matter what country they come from. As a Canadian I feel that we have an international obligation to help people from whatever country they come from.
We know that the courts will do absolutely nothing in terms of deterring this unless the message is sent clearly in our Criminal Code that if this is done mandatory prison terms will be served.
There is one other point that I want to quickly make. The people who stand to monetarily gain from this are subjected to lower sentences, not life imprisonment. These are the kingpins who sit in the backrooms. They are protected by layers of criminal activity. They are the ones who collect the money. They are the ones who direct everything, and yet they are the ones who get the lower sentence.
Why is it that the government thinks that we should simply catch the people out on the street who are doing the abuse, but leave the criminals who are actually profiting with fewer sentences or lesser sentences when it is so difficult to get these individuals to begin with?
Is this a good thing that we are doing in Parliament today? Yes it is. The bill is a good one, but there are a few basic steps that we could take to make this truly an effective bill that would make a difference.
The first thing we should do is impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for those who want to abduct and exploit women and children in this fashion. Those individuals need to go to jail. It is not enough to say that we are going to leave this up to the courts. It is not enough. Parliament needs to stand up and Parliament needs to give direction in this respect.
I have already mentioned the other points. We must fix the sexual abuse registry, clear up the loopholes, and ensure that those who are convicted for abusing children and women are in fact protected.
Lastly, we have to look at the DNA bill. We took some steps to protect Canadians by improving the DNA bill. The Liberals in the last term wanted to give rapists a free rape or a free murder. We do not agree with that kind of thing. Persons should not have a free sexual assault or a free murder before they get on the DNA registry. That was changed as a direct result of the official opposition standing up and saying that once individuals have been convicted of a murder they should be on the DNA database.
It is not enough to simply say they should also be convicted of a sexual assault or if they have been convicted of a sexual assault, they should also have a murder. It is not enough. If persons are convicted of an indictable offence in this country they should be on that DNA database to give the police the appropriate weapons to ensure that dangerous criminals are off the street.
The government, despite all of its talk refuses to do it, continues to refuse to do it, and is simply putting forward legislation saying that this sends a strong message. Who does it send a strong message to? It does not send a strong message to the courts because the courts are not imposing appropriate sentences. It does not send a strong message to the criminals because they are simply paying fines of a few thousand dollars as a licence to operate and they are back on the streets before the police complete the paperwork.
Who is it sending a strong message to? Is it sending a strong message to the people in our communities who are frightened because of crime? Absolutely not. The only message that it is sending to them is that they are scared to walk out on the streets in the evening. That is the message that the government is sending to the people of Canada in large cities, small towns and in rural Canada.
The opposition is prepared to stand up for Canadians, and protect Canadians and the rights of victims over the rights of criminals that the government consistently wants to protect.