moved that Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, today I am pleased to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).
I ask members to take a moment to imagine a beautiful Ontario spring day in June 2008. Imagine a courtroom here in the province of Ontario where a young girl, no older than 15 years when her exploitation began, head bowed, eyes down, quietly relates a story so shocking that we as parents relive the images in our minds over and over again and pray it never happens to our daughters.
I am speaking of a young Canadian girl who lives not far from the nation's capital, telling of the horror she endured from the man who trafficked and sold her for sex for two and a half years, a man who made in excess of $360,000 off this innocent young victim by threatening her, beating her, and forcing her to have sex with strangers.
As a result, this man was able to buy himself a BMW and an expensive house in Niagara Falls. Even though he was eventually caught and convicted, he spent less time in jail than he did exploiting this young girl and destroying her life. Often he would tell her that if she got out of line, he would beat her. He would threaten to kidnap her brother or do harm to her parents.
This man, Imani Nakpangi, was caught and convicted as the first child trafficker in Canada. To get a glimpse of the ongoing trauma this young girl endured from her trafficker, I would like us to imagine our own daughters, granddaughters, or sons, telling this story in this Ontario courtroom last June.
I will quote from this young girl's impact statement so we as parliamentarians can catch a glimpse of what this little girl went through. She said, “I am constantly looking over my shoulder, afraid that either Imani or his friends are going to come after me for putting him in jail. I don't feel safe at home. He knows where I live, and what my family looks like, and where they live. I have nightmares about him. I have low self esteem. Feel like I am only good for one thing...sex. I don't see why someone, a man would be interested in me, and try to get to know me, because I feel unworthy, dirty, tainted, nothing."
In Canada today child sex slavery is alive and well. Traffickers make a great deal of money off innocent child victims. They prefer young children because young children are impressionable, easy to control and easy to intimidate. The criminal intelligence service of Canada's strategic intelligence brief entitled “Organized Crime and Domestic Trafficking in Persons in Canada” has reported that organized crime networks right here in Canada are actively trafficking Canadian born women and underage girls interprovincially and in some instances to the U.S. These women and girls are destined for the sex trade.
I would like to speak about the legal necessity of Bill C-268. Canada's first human trafficking offences were added to the Criminal Code at the end of 2005 through the work of the hon. member for Mount Royal, the justice minister at that time. Section 279.01 of the Criminal Code carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years and up to life imprisonment if the victim is kidnapped, subject to aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault, or killed during the commission of the offence.
Now there are some who will argue this amendment is unnecessary. They will suggest that individuals convicted of trafficking in Canada already face up to 14 years, even life in certain circumstances, and therefore, there is no need for mandatory minimums.
Let me be clear. This view is naive and ignorant of the reality of human trafficking convictions in Canada. Over the past year Peel Regional Police and Montreal Police Service have rescued the first child victims of sex trafficking in Canada and secured convictions against their traffickers. Imani Nakpangi, who I mentioned earlier, was convicted last June of trafficking a 15-year-old girl. He sexually exploited her daily over two years. For the offence of human trafficking, he received only three years and was credited 13 months for the pre-trial time he served.
This past November in Montreal, Michael Lennox Mark was convicted of human trafficking. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for trafficking a 17-year-old girl and selling her for sex. He served only a single week in prison after being convicted because he was given a two-for-one credit for his one year of pretrial custody.
In light of the incredulous sentences these men received, I cannot imagine what one would have to do to receive a full 14 years. These are our Canadian children.
I want to take this opportunity to commend the wonderful police officers in the Peel and Montreal police forces for their dedication to combatting this horrific crime. I can tell members they are shocked at the exceedingly inadequate sentences that have been handed down by sentencing judges in Canada's first set of convictions for human trafficking involving children.
I would like my hon. colleagues to know that Bill C-268 arose directly from consultations with these officers and victims organizations across Canada who are concerned about the safety of our children. These convictions set an alarming precedent for all future cases involving trafficking of children. With almost a dozen similar cases before Canadian courts today involving the trafficking of minors, it is imperative that Parliament send a clear message that the trafficking of minors will not be tolerated.
It is important to note that the Criminal Code already recognizes that certain serious crimes involving child victims require more stringent penalties. Section 212(2.1) of the Criminal Code imposes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the aggravated offence of living on the avails of prostitution of a person under the age of 18 years. Pimps can theoretically be put behind bars for doing this. However, Canada's Criminal Code has no serious penalties for victims of trafficking who are children.
With regard to constitutional concerns, lawyer and criminal law professor Benjamin Perrin has reviewed Bill C-268 and found that it is fully compliant with relevant constitutional standards. Professor Perrin points out that the Supreme Court of Canada has recently affirmed the test for when a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment will constitute cruel and unusual punishment under section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the unanimous reasons for judgment in R. v. Ferguson, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin stated:
The test for whether a particular sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is whether the sentence is grossly disproportionate.... As this Court has repeatedly held, to be considered grossly disproportionate, the sentence must be more than merely excessive.
The only thing that is grossly disproportionate in these cases I have referred to is the inadequate sentences handed out. Let me be clear. There is no reasonable hypothetical scenario that would result in a mandatory minimum term of five years for child trafficking being grossly disproportionate.
As I mentioned earlier, section 212(2.1) imposes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the aggravated offence of living on the avails of prostitution of a person under the age of 18 years. This provision has routinely been applied by the courts and was endorsed by the federal, provincial and territorial working group on prostitution in its report and recommendations in respect of legislation, policy and practices concerning prostitution-related activities. The report states:
--it is difficult to imagine a case in which the minimum sentence would not be suitable.... [I]t definitely signals the community's abhorrence of such a crime by imposing a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence. Both public protection and the expression of public revulsion for such conduct require that the minimum time served in a correctional system be the subject of legislative rather than judicial or administrative control.
These arguments apply with equal, or even greater, force to Bill C-268 in respect of a mandatory minimum sentence for a child trafficker.
Bill C-268 would also bring much needed parity between the trafficking in persons sentencing structure and section 212(2.1) with respect to child victims.
Canada has ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. As a result, Canada has significant international obligations to ensure the safety and protection of our children. Article 3.3 states:
Each State Party shall make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account their grave nature.
Our current Criminal Code does not meet this international obligation when it comes to the trafficking of children.
Bill C-268 would ensure that Canadian courts handed out sentences that reflect the gravity of child trafficking and sexual exploitation and also reflect the sentences handed out to child traffickers in other countries.
I would also note that in October 2008, the report of the Canada-U.S. Consultation in Preparation for the World Congress III against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents recommended that Canada enact a mandatory minimum penalty for child trafficking. This report was prepared by Canadian and American NGOs and federal government representatives, including Steve Sullivan, Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
Other countries have taken significant steps to denounce the trafficking of children. The United States and Australia have separate offences for the trafficking of a child. Trafficking a child under age 14 in the United States will result in a minimum penalty of 15 years and a minimum of 10 for children between the ages of 14 and 16.
The plague of human trafficking that threatens our youth has galvanized Canadians across our country. In the past few weeks I have received countless letters, emails and petitions supporting my bill. I trust many hon. members in the House have experienced a similar outcry. Most notably, support for the bill has come from major stakeholders in the fight against child trafficking. Law enforcement, victims services, first nations, and non-governmental organizations have all expressed the need for mandatory minimum sentences for child trafficking.
Canadian Police Association President Charles Momy has said:
The United Nations has identified human trafficking as a serious concern and Canada is not an exception. This is very real crime in this country. We applaud [the member for Kildonan--St. Paul] for raising this issue in the House of Commons--
--I am sure he applauds everyone for it--
--and welcome this bill as a means for Parliament to address this problem in Canada.
Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs has said:
On behalf of First Nations people, I am pleased to support...Bill C-268. Both US and Canadian government reports have shown that Aboriginal women and children are at greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking than any other group in Canada.... Bill C-268 is one step forward for the First Nations women and children of Canada.
Rosalind Prober, executive director of Beyond Borders, has said:
In terms of sentencing in Canada for crimes against children in general, they are very, very, very lenient....Traffickers of human beings, especially children, are not individuals that should get a slap on the wrist. A message should be sent from the courtroom -- and that's what [the member for Kildonan--St. Paul] is trying to do.
I know all members in the House are trying to do the same thing.
There are many more. What is clear is that Canadians are calling for Parliament to act. After all, we have been elected to ensure the safety of our communities.
The trafficking of children is not a Conservative, Liberal, Bloc or NDP issue. It is not a partisan issue. I have worked diligently to gain support from all parties for this bill.
In the past our parties worked together to pass legislation put forward by the hon. member for Mount Royal to bring in Canada's first human trafficking offences.
Our current government has taken important steps to provide much needed assistance and residence to international victims of human trafficking.
Our government has also introduced an annual $6 million in funding to combat trafficking of persons and child exploitation.
In 2007, members from all parties on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, including the hon. member for Laval and the hon. member for Beaches—East York, who are here in the House today, worked hard to produce a comprehensive report on human trafficking. They both remember the heart-wrenching stories of victims whose lives have been destroyed by this vicious crime.
I am grateful for the overwhelming support I have received from all parties for Bill C-268. It is vital that all Canadians and the international community witness all members of Canada's Parliament standing unified against this horrific abuse of human rights.
We must act to end the trafficking of children here in Canada and abroad. We can and we will.