Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss the legislation introduced by my colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, which would strengthen our ability to hold human traffickers accountable for their crimes.
Private Member's Bill C-310 proposes two Criminal Code amendments to combat trafficking in persons. I support the legislation and applaud my colleague for her unwavering commitment to this issue. I urge all members to support the rapid passage of the bill into law.
The first thing the bill would do is enable the Canadian prosecution of Canadian citizens or permanent residents who commit either the human trafficking offence, section 279.01 of the Criminal Code, or the child-specific trafficking offence abroad, section 279.011. In other words, the bill proposes to provide Canada with extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute two of the four trafficking offences.
I support these amendments and pause here to note that it was another private member's bill introduced by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul that created the child-specific trafficking offence. It came into force last year, having received widespread support in Parliament. I note there appears to be the same widespread support this evening. That offence imposes mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for child traffickers, a punishment that is certainly fitting of this crime.
Canada does not normally assume jurisdiction to prosecute criminal conduct that occurs beyond our borders. Canada is not unique in this regard, and the reasons for not assuming jurisdiction for crimes committed abroad are based primarily on the principle of respect for the sovereignty of the state where the offence took place. In the limited number of cases in which Canada has extended prosecutorial discretion, it was because there was an international consensus to do so, which is most often reflected in an international treaty to which Canada is party.
Perhaps the most widely known example of this in Canada is our so-called child sex tourism offence, which allows Canada to prosecute Canadians who commit sexual offences against children while abroad. In this case, assuming jurisdiction to prosecute trafficking offences committed abroad would be based on our international treaty obligations contained in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplemental Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Canada is party to both these treaties, which encourage, although do not require, countries to assume extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute their nationals for committing human trafficking abroad.
These proposed amendments will enable us to more fully implement these important transnational crime treaties.
We would not be unique in this regard. Countries with legal systems similar to ours, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Australia, have the ability to prosecute their nationals who commit human trafficking abroad. I am very pleased that this proposed legislation would move us in a similar direction.
I stop here to reflect on these amendments and whether it makes sense to include the two additional Criminal Code offences targeting trafficking in persons in these proposed amendments. Those offences--section 279.02, prohibiting the receipt of a financial or other material benefit from the commission of a trafficking offence, and section 279.03, prohibiting the withholding of travel or identity documents in order to facilitate trafficking--also provide important ways for the Canadian judicial system to respond to this horrific practice.
It seems to me that there is some logic in ensuring that all of the trafficking-specific offences can be prosecuted in Canada when they are committed by Canadians or Canadian permanent residents abroad. I for one would certainly support that kind of amendment were it brought forward.
Second, Bill C-310 would enact what I would call an interpretive provision that sets out a non-exhaustive list of factors that a court might take into consideration when determining whether the legal test of exploitation has been made out for the purpose of human trafficking offences.
We all know that at the very core of the crime of human trafficking is the exploitation of another person. Traffickers deny victims their individual autonomy and employ force, threats and other forms of coercion in order to compel their victims to provide their labour or services, and, because trafficking is about the exploitation of another person, our criminal laws make exploitation a critical element to be proven.
The Criminal Code defines exploitation. It says that a person exploits another person if they:
cause them to provide, or offer to provide, labour or a service by engaging in a 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
Our laws also define exploitation in the context of organ removal, but I will not focus on that aspect of our definition today.
The definition of exploitation that I have just noted provides a flexible test and captures the various ways that traffickers compel their victims to provide labour or service, including through physical or emotional coercion.
This definition requires one to look at the effect that such conduct would reasonably be expected to have on a victim, objectively speaking, while also taking into account the particular circumstances of the victim.
I believe this kind of flexible approach is critical in this area. Trafficking in persons is a crime that is not confined to a single act like assault or murder, but rather is a complex pattern of behaviours and actions on the part of the offenders that, taken together, result in the victim having no choice but to provide their labour or service.
Our laws must provide the flexibility to be able to address the continuum of conduct. In saying this, I acknowledge that there are some who believe proving exploitation is difficult, and while our trafficking laws may be clear, they must also be clearly understood.
I believe that it is in this vein that my colleague has proposed to create an interpretive aid for the purpose of assisting the courts in understanding the types of conduct that can be taken into consideration when determining whether exploitation has occurred. I support her efforts in bringing clarity in this regard.
It should be noted that this kind of interpretive aid is not unique in the Criminal Code. For example, subsection 153(1.2) provides a non-exhaustive list of conduct that a court may take into consideration when determining whether a relationship is exploitive of a young person. Section 153 is a sexual exploitation offence involving persons in a position of trust or authority.
Another example is subsection 467.11(3), which provides a non-exhaustive list of factors to consider when determining whether an accused participated in activities of a criminal organization.
The proposed amendment of clause 2 of the bill would list force, threats and other forms of coercion, as well as fraudulent misrepresentation, as being conduct that is relevant to consider in determining whether exploitation has been made out.
This is obviously so, but it will provide police and prosecutors insight into the kinds of evidence that may be relevant and in this regard will streamline and facilitate the investigation and prosecution process.
I am supportive of this amendment. I look forward to working with the sponsor to strengthen and pass the bill in a timely fashion. I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation.