Mr. Speaker, I will take this opportunity to speak to Bill C-49 to perhaps develop the concerns that I raised.
Let me preface this by saying that I am proud that Canada is taking on the global issue of trafficking in human beings. I had some experience with this as the immigration critic for my party when not too long ago boatloads of Chinese immigrants were washing up on the shores of British Columbia. To some consternation, there seemed to be waves of humans being smuggled, some 600 in total.
As we investigated this rash of illegal migrants, it became clear that they were being smuggled in a very organized and structured way by groups of Asian organized crime known as snakeheads. This is a reprehensible practice. People's hopes and ambitions were being exploited by these snakeheads who I suppose offered opportunities or hopes of a better life.
However that is only one example and that perhaps is a more benign example of the type of human trafficking that is a growing problem around the world.
In that case, those people were cheated and undertook a very dangerous practice of being smuggled across the seas, often in shipping containers, or through other methods where they could risk their lives. That was bad enough but the type of human trafficking, the type of modern day slave trade trafficking that is being contemplated by Bill C-49, is of another scale and dimension altogether. It is almost too horrible to imagine.
We recently saw a documentary on one of the news magazine programs in Canada. Some very good investigative journalism has been done showing how vulnerable young people are being seduced off the streets in places such as eastern Europe and some of the Asian countries with offers of opportunities, sometimes being misled and offered legitimate jobs in their destination country, and sometimes being overtly kidnapped and forced into this.
This used to be the stuff of dime store novels where we would hear this kind of thing happening. It is to our shock, horror and dismay to have to admit that in the year 2005 it is commonplace and in fact it is growing in practice. In developed nations, modern, contemporary countries such as Canada, it is incumbent upon us to lead the way by passing legislation that condemns this practice universally.
However the contradiction that I was trying to raise with my colleague from Davenport is that Canada has been enabling this very practice for years. Through three successive ministers of immigration, all very strong women, this practice was allowed to continue. I know for a fact that some of them tried to intervene and put a stop to the exotic dancer visa program.
One of the owners of the hotels, a famous immigration lawyer in Toronto who owns one of the strip joints, one of the biggest beneficiaries of this program, was actually interviewed by Immigration Canada. When asked about the condition of the employment of these women who were being called in to dance, he said, “Don't worry about it. Tell the minister that they are treated like fine race horses”. That was the Toronto immigration lawyer's attitude when asked to explain the terms and conditions of employment. In other words, he is keeping a stable of exotic dancers, of strippers.
We know that as many 500 of these women have been lost. They have literally slipped through the cracks at Immigration Canada. They were corralled in Romania and Hungary, where Canadian immigration officers, to enable the demand for these exotic dancers by Toronto immigration lawyers, were sent to actually recruit dancers. Taxpayers' money was spent for immigration officers to actually station themselves in Romania and sign up as many as 200 of these exotic dancer visa applicants at a time.
Then, when the women do in fact come to Canada, they find that over time their papers are taken away from them. This is the accusation made. We heard testimony to this effect on that news show which was recently broadcast. This would be a violation of and a crime under Bill C-49. As for their working conditions, they are told that their travel is restricted and they have to stay in a certain hotel. Often they are locked in certain hotel rooms, and exotic dancing leads to lap dancing, which leads to pornography and has led to prostitution, and then the women disappear.
This is horrific, whole scale, widespread exploitation of women that not only involves human trafficking but is modern day slavery. As for the fact that my own government, the Government of Canada, was facilitating this, I find it hard to get my mind around that. The fact that it was allowed to continue by otherwise progressive and feminist ministers of immigration is mind-boggling to me.
I have to rise and ask my colleague from Davenport how he squares that in his own mind. The Liberals have a Minister of Justice doing and saying all the right things internationally about trying to be at the leading edge in putting a stop to the international trafficking of human beings, whereas our own recent experience right up until a few months ago was that we were actually engaged in what I call the human trafficking and exploitation and sex slavery of women from East European countries.
God knows what happened to the 500 women who have disappeared. Maybe they have been smuggled out of the country again. That is most serious form of trafficking. Even if it was not illegal trafficking to get the women here, it certainly became illegal trafficking when they were moved across another border into the United States or God knows where.
There is an underworld that exists for this international trafficking of human beings and clearly that underworld exists in this country. I accuse that Toronto immigration lawyer of being part of that underworld. These people know who they are. They are very well known. They are in the Yellow Pages. I could tell this House their names, but I will not bother in this place because it is not worth the hassle of agitating lawyers.
In actual fact, Canada has been complicit in this international trafficking of human beings in recent years. I do not know if we have the right to be pious about our introduction of Bill C-49. When I raise this issue, it is not to be critical of the intentions and the goals of Bill C-49. These are laudable concepts. I would expect nothing else from a country such as Canada but to put in place perhaps the toughest human trafficking legislation in the world. I would be very proud.
There is one thing about Canada and our adherence to and ratification of international conventions and treaties. I have always been very proud that we do not ratify international conventions and treaties unless we actually intend to comply with and abide by them.
It has actually held us back in some respects. I have always been a little bit embarrassed that Canada has never ratified the international convention against child labour. Canada has not done that for specific reasons. In some of our prairie provinces it is not unusual for kids to be taken out of school at harvest time and seeding time to help their families around the farm. Even though we do not consider that child labour, that would be in slight violation of the literal interpretation of ILO convention 183 against child labour. We have not ratified that convention.
I raise that only as an example. I have found it a source of pride that when Canada participates in an international convention or agreement we do it with our eyes open and with every intention of complying to the letter of the law.
How, then, do we work with our partners and colleagues internationally to stem this rising tide of the trafficking of human beings when we knowingly and willingly allow this horror to take place with our eyes open?
I say “allow it to take place” because it has been at least five years since I have been aware of this stripper program, this exotic dancer visa immigration special deal to supply the pornography and sex trade with fresh, young, vulnerable women from desperate circumstances. That has been Canadian policy. It has been a big chunk of the immigration department that has been allocated to this one program. I am not trying to say that it is a third of the department's budget or anything, but it is to the point where full time officers were sent to Romania and Hungary to meet with and interview women specifically for that program.
I would argue that more care and attention have been put into the stripper program, the exotic dancer visa program, than the live-in caregiver program that provides domestic help from places like the Philippines. These programs are on a comparable scale. The difference is that on the one side we are condemning someone to sexual slavery and exploitation and on the other side we are providing a legitimate, hourly paid job at above minimum wage with Saturdays and Sundays off. This is a glaring contrast.
How could anybody in all good conscience allow this number of years to go by and be complicit with and in direction and control of a program that is tantamount to modern day sexual slavery? It absolutely boggles my mind.
As we dwell today on Bill C-49, we are talking about introducing stiff penalties for things like seizing workers' travel documents and passports. Under Bill C-49, that would be a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. That is a heavy penalty. That is far more than one would get for stealing money in the sponsorship program, so obviously the Government of Canada frowns on the idea of seizing someone's personal passport and not allowing him or her to travel.
Yet it has overlooked this in the stripper programs for years, forcing these women into labour conditions that may resemble slavery more than anything. That would be a penalty punishable by Bill C-49. What I mean by this is modern day bondage, where persons have to pay back their bond before they are allowed to begin earning a normal income.
This is exactly the structure of the exotic dancer program, which was allowed to proliferate for so many years. The women are brought over here and are told they have to pay off their travel costs first. It is a classic organized crime structure. That travel costs figure seems to be never ending. It seems to compound. They have an impossible task. They can never seem to pay it off. Therefore, their servitude and their bondage extend and extend. It is in fact modern day slavery.
On exploitation in terms of pornography and the smuggling of children, I have a researcher in Ireland who follows the human sex trade trafficking issue. It is his full time occupation. He phoned our office saying that some of the women who were imported into the exotic dancer visa program and who came to Canada were in fact under age and using false documents. In fact, this Irish non-profit organization is accusing Canada not just of trafficking and smuggling human beings in order to pimp for the underworld, but of trafficking in children, in underage, young, vulnerable women. This is information we will have to collaborate on, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a young woman desperate enough to come to Canada to change her circumstances may in fact have been casual about the age she put on the application.
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the Toronto immigration lawyers who own the strip clubs and who convinced the Liberal government to allow them to import these many hundreds of women.
I condemn the government for allowing this program to exist. I cannot believe how callous and uncaring it must be.
I am sympathetic to the immigration workers, some of whom have complained to me how terrible they feel about the fact that part of their job was to enable and facilitate the importation of these women under this visa program.
I have never yet met anyone who was actually stationed in Romania and Hungary, but I have met co-workers who have told me about one particular woman who was stationed there and whose job essentially was to gather up fresh meat for the pornography and prostitution industry in Canada. They have told me how sick to her stomach she felt in exploiting other women in that way, all of it with the royal seal of approval of the Government of Canada.
I am not speaking today in an effort to make us feel bad about ourselves, but I am asking us to take a long, hard look at ourselves. We may feel good and puff our chests up with pride that today we are debating a bill that will in fact address trafficking of humans. We also may say all the right things at public forums and international conventions on this subject. We would be the first at the United Nations to condemn this in the strongest possible terms, I have no doubt, but let us take a hard look at what we have allowed to happen in recent years.
Let me go back again to the one human trafficking issue with which I have in fact been directly involved. That was the issue of what we called economic migrants, who were washing up on the shores of British Columbia, sometimes literally. Sometimes they jumped out of boats which were in fact tied up just a few hundred yards offshore. They were swimming ashore 600 at a time. Those people all claimed refugee status. It took a number of years to work through whether in fact they were legitimate refugees seeking sanctuary or whether they were economic migrants seeking economic opportunities.
As the interviews went forward and as we found out more about these groups, it turned out that they were in fact being trafficked. They were being transported across the world for a fee of as much as $30,000 to $40,000. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration took a group of us as a committee to the Chinese port in Fujian province that these people left from, which we had envisioned as a small village where people perhaps had rice paddies with water buffalo and wore those straw hats. In actual fact, it is a city of five million people and has skyscrapers that compete with downtown Toronto's.
The economic migrants being trafficked by illegal snakehead smugglers had the $30,000 or $40,000 to give the snakeheads, my point being that it is a very lucrative and profitable enterprise. In fact, there are not many other criminal activities one can undertake in developing nations and third world countries that would pay that kind of return. In a country where $350 is the average annual income, $30,000 rivals any trafficking of drugs.
Trafficking in humans, I argue, is more lucrative than the trafficking of any kind of contraband substance, with the possible exception of medicines. I understand that some medical products in fact exceed the profit margin one can make on human beings, but trafficking in human beings is an ancient and evil concept and is certainly one that I support abolishing.
The international community should unite in condemning and squashing the international trafficking and trade of humans, but let us as Canadians go into this with our eyes open and acknowledge and apologize to the international community for the role that we have played in supplying Toronto immigration lawyers with strippers that they could then sell into prostitution and pornography. God knows what has happened to them.
As I condemn those lawyers and I condemn this government, I apologize to the women who have been exploited by the Government of Canada through the exotic dancer program. I hope they are well and have survived their ordeal.