House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, a number of speakers to the bill have pointed out the fact that the title is almost as long as the provisions of the bill. When we look at the total lifestyle and environment around seniors, from their source of income to whatever support services they receive, or how they are treated within their own family and the areas where the breakdowns occur, there are so many areas that the government could have addressed along with the punitive measures that are put into law.

We have to look at the situation that our seniors find themselves in today from a holistic point of how to address in the community a greater respect for seniors from those who do not have it. People who are vulnerable in our society, either because of drug abuse, substance abuse, or whatever reason, turn to crime and often their victims are elderly.

There are a variety of places that need addressing, those areas which cause the problems for people who ultimately take it out on the seniors. There are direct measures for seniors that need to be put in place around their prescription drugs, support services, palliative care, the stresses in which the families live. There is a whole place that we could have gone with this.

To some extent, how we treat our seniors is representative of our entire view of how we treat our community. By fixing areas of the community, we will fix some of the circumstances for seniors, even if it is not as direct.

This bill, in its very narrow focus, fails the elderly.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, we are basically going to speak about a transition—the transition from the prevention of and sentencing for mistreatment to proper treatment. We are going to ensure that people are entitled to decent, respectable service.

The New Democratic Party is not against this bill, quite the contrary. It can see the first steps—but only the first steps—of a policy to protect our seniors. What specifically does this bill propose? It recommends a hotline for abused seniors, which is a very good thing. The problem is that we do not want to force people to telephone, and we cannot compel them to blow the whistle about their abuse. That is the major problem with this service: the fact that people have to make use of it.

Unfortunately, all too often, the people who abuse seniors are their close relatives or people on whom they depend. They depend on them to do their shopping or housework or to take care of them. It is not easy to report someone who is so badly needed. That person is very often the only one they know. So, the service is viable as long as people call and as long as the people who call have access to some other resource to replace the person who is abusing them.

Creating positions of consultants who are specialists in elder abuse is another option. There is already a project in Manitoba that has had good results. In fact it is not enough just to report someone; the situation has to be improved. Specialists in elder abuse can refer the person to the appropriate service. They can ensure that the person finds the services that are available in the community.

Very often, a number of volunteer services are free of charge. Demand for these services is high. But for them to be effective, the first step has to be taken. These consultant services will be a necessary resource and that is great.

The Criminal Code must also be amended so that elder abuse is considered an aggravating circumstance and leads to sentencing for a crime. Showing contempt for a senior, insulting a senior and being impatient with a senior is not a crime, but it is abuse. Treating seniors like children and considering them intellectual rejects, depriving them of their freedom of choice in making decisions about their finances, the way they dress or some other matter is not a crime. On the other hand, to the person who is going through this, to the person who is insulted, belittled and despised, this is abuse. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not change anything. It cannot fix offensive behaviour. The Criminal Code is not meant to do that.

You understand all the limitations of this legislation. It is a first step, a very small first step. We support it, but we note and stress the fact that it does not go far enough.

In my riding, there is the CLAVA, the Laval committee on abuse and violence against seniors. This service encourages seniors to stand up for their rights. It accompanies them during court proceedings and provides training on what elder abuse is. These people tell us that every senior may become a victim of abuse, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, income or level of education.

These things are not relevant. It is how isolated seniors are that determines the extent to which they are victimized. That is the key issue.

There are meals on wheels services in Laval, Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère, Bois-des-Filion and Lorraine. Often, the meals on wheels staff provide not only meals, but also a welcome change from the isolation. These seniors are visited once a week by a person who looks at them, listens to them, checks to see whether their home is well maintained, whether they are eating well, whether they have medication and are taking it. Of course, care is also taken to listen to the seniors to determine whether they have been mistreated, beaten, or stolen from. The volunteers take note of all this information. They break the isolation. This is probably a much more precious gift than the food they bring. It is essential.

Often, the people that use this service really appreciate being visited by someone who sits with them over a cup of tea or coffee, who is approachable and who makes them feel listened to. It is so important that the isolation be broken. It is also an opportunity for the seniors to share information that they would not share over the telephone. Seniors will talk with someone who visits them once a week, but they will not tell a policeman or someone from a helpline that their child is disrespectful, that the landlord is stealing from them, or that their electricity has been cut off. Only someone who has an intimate relationship with the elderly person can get this kind of information.

It is important to understand that there are things that can be done to prevent abuse. Isolation may also be linked to poverty. Seniors who do not have the money to go out to dinner with friends once a week feel isolated. That is economic isolation. It is called social exclusion and is the result of not having enough money.

There is also the matter of housing. When an elderly person lives on the third floor and has arthritis, it is understandable that they avoid going up and down the stairs as much as possible. Housing can be a form of isolation. If a person’s home is not adapted to their deteriorating physical health, they may feel isolated.

Pharmacare is a major issue when it comes to poverty. Serious consideration should be given to establishing a national pharmacare plan. It would save a lot of seniors from having to make choices: between housing and drugs, food and drugs, clothing and drugs. It would save them from having to choose to restrict the use of a certain drug or from needing to chose, for example, their arthritis drugs at the expense of their diabetes drugs. Canadians should not have to make these choices. That is something else to consider.

We support the notion of a helpline. It is a first step and a worthwhile initiative. It would be a mistake, however, to set up a helpline and then cut back on meals on wheels services. That would not make sense.

Any investment in the prevention of elder abuse must not be about doing away with the services that currently exist and replacing them with lesser ones. The helplines must be additional services; they must not replace services that already work well.

We support the consultant positions, particularly since these consultants can direct seniors to services in the voluntary sector. That can sometimes also result in people becoming volunteers themselves. They can be active if they have help to break out of isolation, to break out of poverty.

We want to facilitate access to adapted social housing and prescription drugs for seniors. We also want to eliminate poverty and isolation, because they are what make it easy for seniors to become victims. Obviously, raising pensions is one part of that. What needs to be done is not cutting pensions in future, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and saving $10 billion, and then saying the government is going to invest $25 million in telephone lines. That makes no sense. Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement combined have to provide an income that, at a minimum, is equal to the poverty line.

It makes no sense for seniors who have only these two sources of income to end up below the poverty line. That is encouraging poverty. It means accepting that people should have to go to food banks. It means making them limit the drugs they decide to buy, make do with substandard housing and move out of a home that suited them for something smaller and not as comfortable. That is unacceptable.

The combination of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement must at a minimum be equal to the poverty line. Anything else is quite simply accepting poverty and giving up on fighting it.

Long-term home care is also important. They are going to raise the cost of health care. The population is aging, and the older people are, the more health care they are going to need. Limiting health transfers to 2.5% is not the way to solve this problem. At some point, we are going to have to accept that if people in fact need medically necessary services, we have to give them to them. This is not the time to start scrimping. That is unfortunately how it looks to us.

We are going to keep saying that right now, taking away people’s drugs and their safe housing because of the economic restrictions imposed by the government is a form of abuse. Accepting that we have seniors living in poverty is abuse.

Trying to combat abuse by putting in a phone line while cutting the things that are essential to people is a form of abuse. Cutting $200 million from social housing for seniors, cutting growth in the health insurance plan, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and limiting growth in the guaranteed income supplement—if that is not abuse, it is knowingly and intentionally agreeing to an increase in poverty, and that is a form of abuse.

We are also going to have to face an economic challenge. It is necessary to provide the services and have the means to pay for them. It is possible. It can even be easily achieved. There is a lot of volunteer activity. It has to be encouraged. It does not cost very much and it contributes a great deal, particularly in terms of human kindness. It provides human contact. People do not just want a public servant providing the service. They want to meet people they trust, people they like, and people they want to talk to. Socializing, talking to someone from time to time, not being stuck in front of a television—all this is useful in the fight against abuse.

Social housing co-operatives can also be a big help and are not necessarily that expensive. The construction of co-operative housing also lets seniors know that they will be paying part of the cost of that social housing.

The advantage of co-operatives is the enormous stock of housing available once the building has been paid for, once it has been built with a minimum down payment from the federal government, because the people will have paid their rent and paid the mortgage. Not only will this housing be available at a very affordable price, but it can be adapted to the seniors’ situation, giving them the ability to move around the rooms in their wheelchair, with an accessible bathroom, door handles that are not round but simply replaced with hooks, and space to allow a wheelchair to fit under the kitchen sink. These ergonomic changes are essential for people with diminishing independence. And we will be able to build it.

Of course, when $200 million in funding for social housing is cut, a lot of harm is done. The government cannot claim to be fighting poverty among seniors and then turn around and take away $200 million. And saving $600 million by making cuts to the guaranteed income supplement is also not particularly useful in the fight against poverty.

The government is not even talking about a prescription drug plan. The only thing it is willing to talk about is curbing the rate of growth in health insurance transfer payments.

I am sorry, but on one hand the government is sending a message saying that it is going to fight elder abuse, and on the other, it refusing to take responsibility for something that could lead to increased poverty among seniors. The government needs to be consistent. There is no consistency here.

We are going to support this bill, but I can guarantee that we will not be supporting the budget. We will support this bill as a first step in showing Parliament's collective will to fight poverty and reduce violence. As I have said, nothing in the Criminal Code punishes bad manners.

We are willing to fight something, but it must be understood that, for seniors, being insulted by one of their children hurts as much as being beaten. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not be able to do anything to prevent that. It will be necessary to collectively ensure that seniors are not always left on their own, that they still have an active life, and that they still have the means necessary to have an active life, from a financial point of view, as well as in terms of medical support and access to drugs and health care.

We will have to make sure that seniors are able to receive family members and friends in decent living quarters where they feel totally at home and comfortably sheltered. People want to be able to live independently; they do not want to live in a dormitory or hospital room where people can come and go as they please. They want to live at home. They want to live in their own home as long as possible. Everyone agrees that seniors have an attachment to their home.

We need to take steps to ensure that they can enjoy this home. We need to do it without necessarily overhauling the whole budget. We are not talking about billions of dollars, but simply a number of societal choices.

I am now ready to answer any questions my colleagues may have.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his compassionate speech.

I would like to address two issues that increase the risk of elder abuse: namely poverty and health issues, particularly limited functional capacity. I am absolutely against raising the age of OAS eligibility and find that unnecessary change is reprehensible. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has made it clear that the economy is strong and that this is a false crisis. Senior poverty could increase by one-third with the government's changes.

The second issue is health. The World Health Organization's report, Dementia: A Public Health Priority, and the Alzheimer Society of Canada's Rising Tide report are wake-up calls for us to develop a national plan for dementia. Today in Canada, one person is diagnosed with dementia every five minutes. There is a terrible human cost and the economic cost is $15 billion. In 30 years, we are looking at a person being diagnosed once every two minutes and the cost to be $153 billion.

Five of the G7 countries have nationwide plans. Why is Canada lagging behind?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, on the matter of raising the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67, the only argument that the government has put forward is a demographic one. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, this was already suggested by Brian Mulroney. He said that it was horrible to have seven people working to support one retired person, and that in the 2010s, the ratio was going to be four to one. He said that in 2010, the country would be bankrupt.

Well, here we are in 2012, and we can see that the demographic argument put forward by Brian Mulroney is not true. The same could be said of the current government's measure that would increase the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. The important thing is whether the government’s finances are healthy. Are they? Yes. Can the government rely on a significant revenue base? Yes, Canada is rich. Finally, Canada has the ability to collect its taxes, which is often not the case in certain European countries.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I had an interesting incident in my constituency office a number of months ago. A senior talked to me about a problem he had with his son taking advantage of him with his low-cost housing. He was afraid that he would end up in trouble with the housing authority. I told him to simply ask his son to leave, but he said that his granddaughter was there as well.

When we talk about elder abuse and raising the bar on penalties, in many cases they would be inflicted on the relatives of the elder and those most closely connected. I think we have to be very careful with this. I would like my colleague to comment.

Are we going to find that in some cases elders do not report abuse because they are worried about the kinds of penalties that would come down on those who are closest to them who may be engaged in the abuse? If the penalty is too high, would elders be inclined not to bring that forward? It is a very important question because it will play out over and over again in our society.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the problem is serious, especially when those who are suffering such abuse have a close relationship with the person who is failing to show them respect. The cases that lead to criminal charges are the most serious and the most extreme. But what do we do for people who have $100 stolen from them every week and no longer have that money to buy their medication? That is where the seriousness of the situation lies.

Very often, a crime and the consequences it has are disproportionate, and people are afraid of the repercussions of a criminal charge. They do not want someone to go to prison, particularly if there are family, friendship or emotional ties to the person in question.

I repeat once again that in the Criminal Code, there is no punishment for lack of respect, which very often amounts to serious abuse. People are disparaged and neglected and considered worthless. A person who suffers this finds it extremely painful, but the Criminal Code will not be of any help.

On the other hand, enabling them to break out of their isolation and to have access to volunteers who can provide support, a friendly ear, advice and even love is quite another story. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code is of no help to us.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

When this bill reappears on the order paper, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin will have four minutes for questions and comments.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

moved that Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to my private member's bill, C-301, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons).

I would like to begin by thanking the member for Ottawa—Orléans who graciously agreed to exchange spots in the order of precedence so Bill C-310 could be debated on March 30, 2012. I also want to thank the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, who without hesitation agreed to exchange spots so that Bill C-310 could be debated today instead of May 31. The selfless actions of these members have allowed Bill C-310 to proceed sooner and place important legal tools into the hands of prosecutors and law enforcement.

I also want to thank the hon. members on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their work on the bill at committee stage.

Bill C-310 would amend the Criminal Code to add the current trafficking in persons offences, 279.01 and 279.011, to the list of offences which, if committed outside of Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, can be prosecuted in Canada. Bill C-310 would also amend the definition of exploitation in the trafficking and persons offence to add an interpretive aid for courts to consider when they are determining whether a person was exploited.

The first clause of Bill C-310 was amended at justice committee to include the two other human trafficking-specific offences: the material benefit offence in section 279.02 that prohibits receipt of a financial or other material benefit from the commission of a human trafficking offence; and the offence of withholding or destroying documents, such as travel or identity documents, to facilitate human trafficking in section 279.03. This ensures all human trafficking offences are covered by extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The second clause of Bill C-310 recognizes that courts and law enforcement would benefit from an interpretive provision to provide clear guidance on what exploitation consists of. This clause was also amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee's amendment simplified Bill C-310's proposed listing of conduct and made it more consistent with the way other similar clauses in the Criminal Code are drafted. It now reads:

In determining whether an accused exploits another person under subsection (1), the Court may consider, among other factors, whether the accused (a) used or threatened to use force or another form of coercion; (b) used deception; or (c) abused a position of trust, power or authority.

This wording provides clear examples of common exploitive methods used by traffickers in cases of sex trafficking and forced labour. It is also consistent with a similar clause in the Criminal Code and international protocols on human trafficking.

The justice committee also heard from key stakeholders regarding the importance of Bill C-310, including representatives from Walk With Me, Beyond Borders and Dr. Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor and expert on extraterritorial law.

Timea Nagy, program director of Walk With Me, was herself a victim of human trafficking. She said:

Walk With Me’s position is that this [Bill C-310] is a necessary and desperately needed amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada. ...Conceivably, as the Criminal Code presently stands, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident could set up an office in eastern Europe and traffic in human persons to Canadian soil without the threat or worry of prosecution when they return to Canada.

Ms. Nagy knows that well because she herself was trafficked from abroad.

Roz Prober, president of Beyond Borders testified. She said:

Beyond Borders early on endorsed this bill, as it includes child sex traffickers.... It is essential, to ensure global justice for children, that Bill C-310 is supported by this committee.

Dr. Amir Attaran, a faculty of law professor at the University of Ottawa, stated:

...Bill C-310 is a very helpful bill. It's necessary. It's constitutional. It definitely should pass....The heart of the bill is really those provisions that clarify the meaning of exploitation and trafficking and that make trafficking a Canadian crime worldwide.

In closing, once again, allow me to express my sincere gratitude to the courageous members who have supported Bill C-310. By working together in this House, we can all effectively combat human trafficking in our country, as well as abroad.

I look forward to your assistance, Madam Speaker, in helping Bill C-310 become law, and I look forward to all members of the House helping Bill C-310 become law just as quickly as possible. Innocent victims are waiting for this.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her bill, which I fully support. In committee, we heard testimony from various witnesses and groups. Does she believe that further amendments are required to help put an end to the scourge that is human trafficking?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, for this particular bill it is necessary right now to have the amendments that were considered at committee. They were thoughtfully considered and brought forward in a helpful manner. I do not think that any new amendments need to be done right now.

It is important to get the bill through at this time. We know that Canadians travelling abroad have set up brothels and are exploiting children. We know where they live and we know what they have done.

It is necessary that this legislation be passed through the House so that Canada will have the tools to reach out and protect victims. Canadians and permanent residents should not be travelling to other countries to exploit children.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member bringing Bill C-310 forward. We in the Liberal Party recognize the type of exploitation that is taking place and would have been quite happy to see the bill go through the process the other day. We believe the bill will make a difference.

I have no further comments or questions. The member can feel free to comment on what I have just said. I just wanted to let her know that we are quite prepared to see the bill pass today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Winnipeg North. It is important to note that the member and his party have always been supportive of this very important bill. As well, the former leader of the official opposition, Jack Layton, fully supported my previous bill. I have very fond memories of the conversations we had.

I would not like to see the House hold up the bill, even for another four days. It could possibly be held up for another four days because there has to be a vote on Wednesday. I know it is only three days and is not as important as it was last time, but I would like to see it get through. I would like to see this happen.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, this legislation works toward eliminating this heinous crime. Could my friend tell me how it would help police officers not only in Canada but around the globe?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Kootenay—Columbia is an ex-Mountie and knows full well the importance of the bill.

Canadians have set up businesses abroad and are making money and exploiting and sexually attacking innocent children in those countries. We know a lot of them and we know where they come back to in Canada, but we need this legislation to be able to go to other countries and bring them to justice.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party and myself, I want to reiterate my full support for Bill C-310, which was introduced by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. I would also like to remind this House that, to date, there have been three votes on the bill being discussed today: one at second reading, one in committee, and a third at report stage.

At second reading, on a recorded division, all the NDP members voted in favour of this bill, without a single dissenting voice. At the 27th meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, held on March 15, 2012, the four NDP members on the committee, including myself, voted in favour of Bill C-310, along with the proposed amendments. At report stage, on the 181st recorded division, all the NDP members who were present—93 in total—once again voted unanimously in favour of this bill. We voted in favour of this bill at every step of the legislative process.

It is, in my opinion, extremely important that I state this for the record because, at one point, the media and certain social networks questioned me about whether the NDP had changed its position. No, it has not. On this side of the House—especially in the New Democratic Party—several of my colleagues were anxious to rise on this issue. There were more members interested in speaking than there were spots available, given the time allocated for debate. Members were interested in speaking about this extremely important subject for a number of reasons. That is why we are now happy to have this opportunity at third reading. Our vote will not change come next week when it is time to revisit this bill.

I am pleased that the amendment was adopted as mentioned by my colleague because there were some questions about the bill as introduced. It was not clear whether the factors could prove exploitation. We are reasonably confident about the way in which clause 279.09 will now be read. It reads as follows:

(1) For the purposes of sections 279.01 to 279.03, a person exploits another person if they cause them to provide, or offer to provide, labour or a service by engaging in 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.

(2) In determining what constitutes exploitation under subsection (1) [that was the part that was missing], the Court may consider, among other factors, whether the accused...

The use of “among other factors” indicates that these are not the only factors. However, if an accused exploits another person under subsection (1), the criteria listed become proof of the exploitation. That was the missing piece of the bill:

(b) used or threatened to use violence;

(c) used or threatened another form of coercion;

Other factors are the use of deception and the abuse of a position of trust, power or authority.

Human trafficking and human smuggling should not be confused, as they are in some bills concerning refugees. They are not the same thing. We are dealing with human trafficking. People who do not believe that this takes place in Canada should wake up. It does happen, even in 2012. This may be the reason for this bill, which was introduced by my colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul. It is very important. This is real. It is not just talk. There are specific problems.

Over the years, there have been few court cases not because the problem does not exist, but because we did not have the means to prosecute offenders in the circumstances. For that reason, it is even more important to pass the bill.

The testimony presented In committee broke our hearts. The exploitation of a person can be physical, but human trafficking involves people who are used as slaves.

This is 2012 and there are people being held in slavery or forms of slavery by Canadians. That is what we mean by exploitation in this context. This is absolutely intolerable. For people like me who live in Gatineau, just on the other side of the river, it seems absolutely unbelievable that people could still be trapped in situations like that in this day and age.

My colleague’s bill is complete in itself, but we may have to add to it in this House, in other bills, to make sure that certain intolerable situations do not arise in different contexts.

The Walk With Me Canada victim support centre appeared before our committee to voice its support for the bill. The examples it gave us and the ways this bill could be useful to it were striking.

I am pleased that my colleague mentioned our former leader, the Right Honourable Jack Layton. He was at all times what I have always called the greatest feminist I have ever met in my life. To him, whether a person was a man or a woman, the values of equality were always very important. When he saw anything that was unfair, he was outraged. He was always saying that something had to be done or something had to be changed. That is why I have no trouble seeing how he might support this bill.

Sometimes, we are not proud of what goes on in this House, not proud of the things said about various people. But certainly, all my colleagues and myself will be very proud to stand with the government to support the member’s bill next week.

The study may have taken a few days longer, but sometimes, and I am familiar with the justice system too, three days or five days or a week more may not necessarily make too much of a difference in terms of initiating prosecutions and making sure the situation is resolved. I do not think that anyone’s life was endangered during this time.

This is a matter of principle for us. It is extremely important that all members of the New Democratic Party have this opportunity to rise in this House. They may have wanted to debate the question to show their support, because that is part of our job, but they also wanted to be counted specifically instead of just knowing that it was passed and that was that.

Members want to be able to go back to their ridings and tell the groups working right on the front line on these issues that we are working for them, that we are there. Members want to be able to clearly explain our colleague’s bill to their constituents and help them to better understand it.

I am not going to make a long speech because 10 minutes goes by quickly and I have barely a minute left, but there are people who do not know what human trafficking or exploitation is. I spoke of slavery. People can imagine what went on in the southern United States in previous centuries. Somewhat the same thing is going on in the case of human trafficking, and there are Canadians engaging in this as a business. It affects primarily women, children and aboriginal people. Some classes of individuals are still sought after for this kind of disgusting trade. This is not a trade in objects; it is a trade in persons. We are all supposed to be equal in this world, but these people are taken and enslaved, sometimes for base commerce, or for other reasons.

That is unacceptable. I think my colleague will have no difficulty getting the support of this House for her bill. Once again, I congratulate her for introducing this bill, for doing a good job of it and for being a worthy spokesperson for it in committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-310, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), introduced by my colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. As my colleague from Gatineau has just done, I will take this opportunity to commend the member for her ongoing initiatives and engagement in this regard, of which this bill is but the latest example.

As I have said in the House and as this bill seeks to do, there is an ongoing need to combat this scourge of human trafficking, this pernicious, persistent and pervasive assault on human rights, this commodification in human beings, whereby human beings are regarded simply as cattle to be bonded and bartered. Indeed, this pernicious evil continues to be as persistent and pervasive as ever.

If we look at the situation, we will see that just this week Yuri Fedotov, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, estimated that as many as 2.4 million people are victims of trafficking worldwide at any given moment in time. His comments came as the heads of various UN organizations associated with tourism condemned human trafficking in that sector and proposed a series of reforms.

Of course, it is not in just one agency, be it the UN, or in one sector, be it tourism, where we need to act. The OSCE special representative and coordinator for combatting trafficking in human beings, Marcia Grazia Giammarinaro, recently noted in her address to global parliamentarians that human trafficking is “not a marginal phenomenon, but a new form of slavery on a massive scale in which people lose their freedom of choice, and are reduced to commodities for the benefit of their exploiters”.

In fact, if we look at the situation, the evidence speaks for itself. We know that this grotesque trade in human life generates upwards of $15 billion a year. We know that trafficking is so profitable that it is the world's fastest-growing international crime. We know that the majority of victims being trafficked each year are girls and women under the age of 25 and that many trafficking victims are young people, including children. We know that the victims of trafficking are desperate to secure the necessities of life, and as a result their lives are mired in exploitation and rooted in the greed of those who prey upon them.

We know that UNICEF continues to remind us that 1.2 million children are trafficked globally each year and that the ILO estimates that 2.5 million children are currently in situations of forced labour as a result of being trafficked. We know that no matter for what purpose they are trafficked, every trafficked person suffers deprivation of liberty and physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including threats of violence and actual harm to themselves and to their family members.

Although all of those numbers taken together represent compelling and cumulative evidence of this scourge of human trafficking, we must always remember that behind each of the statistics and behind every number is a face, a life, a world shattered by this evil of human trafficking.

Lest it be thought that there is no Canadian connection to this, the U.S. State Department earlier this year released a chilling report on human trafficking, which found:

Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. Canadian women and girls, particularly from aboriginal communities, are found in conditions of commercial sexual exploitation across the country. Foreign women and children, primarily from Asia and Eastern Europe, are subjected to sex trafficking....

Indeed, some Canadians have a hand in human trafficking, and it is therefore important, as this legislation seeks to do, to send a message that complicity in the trafficking of persons is not only not acceptable in any way but that we in fact will pursue those traffickers, be they Canadians, here and abroad. This therefore includes extending the reach of our laws to actions that occur beyond our borders.

Last year, Canada prosecuted a child sex tourist, a Canadian who abused girls in Cambodia and Colombia, for violating subsection 7(4.1) of the Criminal Code. Bill C-310 would expand this provision to apply not only to sexual offences against children, as it does now, but to offences related to trafficking in persons.

We should note that just this week the news from Britain reflected the situation where a young woman was trafficked for organ harvesting. So, while our minds may think of human trafficking only for the purposes of sexual exploitation, it exists in other contexts that are no less reprehensible. Indeed, our Criminal Code must stand for the proposition that such trafficking is unacceptable for any person anywhere, for any reason, at any time.

With specific regard to Bill C-310, I will cite World Vision's characterization of it. It reads:

This bill is a significant and necessary step in responding to human trafficking, and a vital part of a broader strategy to tackle trafficking at home and overseas from the key internationally recognized intervention angles: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.

As I referred to earlier, this was initially introduced legislation and the four Ps for combatting trafficking.

While the bill we are debating this afternoon is an important step in the right direction, there is much more that needs to be done to address all aspects of the trafficking process. In this regard, I would like to note two items among a number of them that the U.S. report of this year found with respect to Canada. I reads:

Canada's law enforcement efforts reportedly suffer from a lack of coordination between the national government and provincial and local authorities, which prosecute most human trafficking cases.

That is something that was noted before but which needs to be continuously addressed.

Simply put, changing the law, while important, will not be enough without adopting a national approach to its enforcement that includes co-operation with provincial and local authorities. I know that the sponsor of this bill has a number of proposals in mind for how we can combat trafficking beyond the legislation before us and has spoken to these other recommendations and needs before. I and other members of this House look forward to working with her on the next steps involved, particularly with respect to coordination between actors at the federal, provincial and local levels.

Referring again to the U.S. report, it was also found that in Canada:

...there were no nationwide protocols for other government officials to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution or migrant workers. Victim support services in Canada are generally administered at the provincial level. There were no dedicated facilities or specialized programs for trafficking victims.

That reminds us yet again of the importance of the protection function of the protection of victims, at the same time as we seek to prosecute the perpetrators and always, foremost, the prevention of trafficking to begin with.

Indeed, we must ensure that we are not only looking at human trafficking with a view toward the punishment and prosecution of those involved, but with an ongoing appreciation of the victimization of those who are, have been and continue to be victimized in the process. We must ensure that programs for their protection are fully funded, that they provide services in a variety of languages and they assist toward rehabilitation and reintegration into society for those who have been victims of trafficking.

Trafficking constitutes an assault on our common humanity. Accordingly, it must be seen first and foremost as a human rights problem but with an ongoing human rights face reflected in all of the individual victims and being the very antithesis of what the universal declaration of human rights is all about.

As Professor Harold Koh put it, while dean of Yale Law School:

By their acts, traffickers deny that all persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights; they deny their victims freedom of movement, freedom of association, and the most basic freedom: to have a childhood.

I am delighted to stand in this place and support the legislation.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to echo the message of my colleagues in the NDP that we support this piece of legislation, Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons).

I would like to note the work of the MP for Kildonan—St. Paul, a fellow Manitoban, on this particular file.

This chamber has heard of the importance of addressing the gaps in the Criminal Code relating to human trafficking. We in the NDP welcome legislation that assists in strengthening the law and works to put an end to human trafficking. As the status of women critic for the NDP, I note the particular victimization that women face when it comes to human trafficking. A majority of people trafficked are women and girls.

Strengthening legislation to prosecute traffickers and prevent others from trafficking is critical; however, legislation is not enough. When we hear from advocates about what can be done to prevent human trafficking, a recurring message is that of changing the social circumstances that leave people vulnerable to trafficking. Both here at home and abroad, we must work with other countries to reduce poverty, underdevelopment and the lack of equal opportunity that make people, particularly women, vulnerable to trafficking.

Because human trafficking is a hidden operation, reliable statistics are obviously difficult to find. In 2004, the RCMP estimated that 800 people were trafficked into Canada each year, of which 600 were destined for the sex trade. They also estimated that 1,500 to 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the U.S. annually. According to Canadian non-governmental organizations, the number of foreign women brought into Canada and into the sex trade here each year becomes much higher.

As we know, there are also many Canadian women who are trafficked within Canada's borders. Canada's aboriginal female population is prostituted and trafficked in disproportionate levels. Aboriginal youth are only 3% to 5% of the Canadian population, yet in some cities they are 90% of the visible sex trade.

Young women who have been sexually exploited and abused in the past are more vulnerable to trafficking. There is no doubt that the bill before us strengthens the ability to prosecute traffickers, but unfortunately it does nothing to deal with the root causes of trafficking. When we look particularly at the situation that aboriginal women face in Canada, I believe that many of us know that the government has to do a lot more. The factors that make aboriginal women in Canada more vulnerable include the socio-economic status that many of them have. In census after census, we find out that aboriginal women are among the poorest in our country.

We must also look at factors that make them more vulnerable as a result of the residential school experience, which we know aimed to assimilate aboriginal people, thus leading many of them to lose their language, sense of identity and pride. This cultural experiment, supported by the Government of Canada at the time, allowed for a legacy to be left behind that has further marginalized aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal women. That is an area where we need to see the government step up in terms of its commitment to cultural revitalization, its support of the learning of aboriginal languages and its promotion of how important the retention of language and culture is among aboriginal communities.

Another area where we can seek to challenge a key factor that makes aboriginal women even more vulnerable is their level of education and learning. As the MP for Churchill, I have the honour of representing 33 first nations. I know that on many of these first nations, the educational standards and educators the communities are able to provide are substandard, particularly compared to non-aboriginal communities. Why is that? It is because Canada's previous Liberal governments, as well as the current Conservative government, have ensured that federal funding for aboriginal education was and is at a lower level than for non-aboriginal educational systems, thereby ensuring that young people growing up in aboriginal communities are less able to access a quality education. I believe, and our party has noted, that this is a crying shame in a country as wealthy as Canada.

In terms of education, we know that the application of the 2% cap on funding for aboriginal students ensures that young aboriginal people, who know that obtaining a post-secondary education is key to moving ahead in life, are unable to do so. The circumstances of poverty and hopelessness that exist in their communities hold them back from being able to access an important opportunity which so many Canadians know is the key to moving ahead in the future. The removal of the 2% cap and ensuring that young aboriginal people can have access to post-secondary education is another step the federal government could take in order to ensure that aboriginal young people, particularly young aboriginal women, are made less vulnerable.

Community capacity building is another area where there needs to be federal support in order to support young aboriginal people, in particular, young aboriginal women. We need to ensure there is key programming and services offered in aboriginal communities, wherever they might be.

With respect to housing, for example, many of us have seen the kind of images that came out of Attawapiskat and other first nations communities across the country. I represent some of those communities that face dire situations when it comes to housing: Pukatawagan, St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Gods Lake Narrows, communities across northern Manitoba that have a similar circumstance to those of northern Ontario and northern regions across our country. For decades, and particularly as aboriginal populations have grown recently, aboriginal communities have been saying that they need the federal government to step up its funding when it comes to providing proper housing and proper infrastructure in aboriginal communities.

Another area in which the federal government could truly step up when it comes to supporting aboriginal women and aboriginal people is with respect to healing. Many aboriginal people face the challenge of marginalization. I remember some years ago standing in this House with my colleagues in the NDP and fighting the government because of its cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, an extremely successful program which took a decentralized approach when it came to funding critical healing programming to aboriginal communities across the country. Despite research that indicated it was an extremely successful program, the Conservatives unfortunately decided to make serious cuts to it. Again, we have a situation where thanks to federal government cuts, many aboriginal people and aboriginal women who are seeking to heal from the traumatic experience of residential schools and oppression do not have the kind of programming that they had a few years ago.

In general, I would say that the work this government needs to do in terms of achieving women's equality is enormous. However, instead of moving forward, the Conservative government is moving Canada backward on a whole host of measures, some of which I have mentioned in this House just in the last 24 hours: the removal of the word “equality” from the status of women mandate; the elimination of the court challenges program; the elimination of pay equity legislation; cuts to advocacy programs; cuts to research; and cuts to services. That indicates the government is not interested when it comes to achieving true gender equality for aboriginal women in Canada and for all women in Canada.

In conclusion, while we support this piece of legislation, we hope that the government will turn the clock forward and work with us to achieve true equality for all women in Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-310 to combat human trafficking in Canada and abroad.

Of course, we support this bill, which contains amendments to the Criminal Code that will make it possible to better combat this form of modern slavery. Furthermore, I would like to thank the sponsor of this bill for addressing this problem, which only seems to be growing. I believe this is a time when all parties of the House can really work together to improve the situation and women's rights.

When this issue is discussed, we often think of sexual slavery. However, there are other types of exploitation of human suffering which, though they may be more insidious and are almost invisible, are no less tragic. My honourable colleague from Montreal mentioned the case of a woman who was a victim of trafficking because of organ theft.

While any estimate of the number of victims of human trafficking is questionable because of the clandestine nature of this phenomenon, there may be as many as 2.5 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. It is estimated that traffickers profit by about $10 billion US every year. This gives an idea of the magnitude of the current situation.

The figures for Europe, compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, are horrifying.

According to the report, trafficking of human beings is the most lucrative illegal activity in Europe. The UN estimates that crime groups derive profits of over $2.5 billion by organizing forced labour and sexual exploitation of human beings.

According to the report, 140,000 people are trapped in a cycle of brutal violence, abuse and degradation in Europe. About 84% of the victims in Europe are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are young women who have been raped, beaten, drugged and held prisoner. Most of them are in debt, have been subject to blackmail and have had their passports taken away.

Canada is a country of arrival and transit for victims of human smuggling. According to a Department of Justice document, 600 to 800 people are sold in Canada annually, and 1,500 to 2,200 people pass through Canada before being exploited in the United States.

A more surprising and little known fact is that Canada is also affected by domestic human trafficking as a result of the exploitation of aboriginals, which makes Canada a country of origin for victims. Most of these victims are aboriginal women.

Under Bill C-310, human trafficking would also be added to the list of extraterritorial offences.

Currently, when human trafficking is perpetrated abroad by Canadians or by people who ordinarily reside in Canada, these criminals cannot be prosecuted in Canada.

Bill C-310 will correct this situation by criminalizing human trafficking perpetrated by Canadian citizens or permanent residents outside Canada.

I would now like to say a few words about the constitutionality of the extraterritorial provision since the courts will undoubtedly test it.

It is important to remember that subsection 7(4.1) of the Criminal Code already contains an extraterritorial clause regarding pedophile tourism and that this provision was challenged in a recent case before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Basically, the issue was whether it was constitutional to apply Canadian legislation to crimes committed abroad by Canadians.

Justice Cullen determined that the provisions on pedophile tourism were constitutional and that Parliament had the authority to adapt the extraterritorial provisions. He categorically rejected the defence’s argument that the rights of the accused guaranteed by the Charter were violated because the crimes were committed outside Canada.

The president of Au-delà des frontières, Rosalind Prober, and law professor Amir Attaran gave assurances to parliamentarians that the bill was entirely constitutional.

A second measure contained in the bill would add a provision stipulating the factors that courts can take into consideration in determining what constitutes exploitation.

Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, experts in the fight against human trafficking, and NGOs have voiced their concerns about how vague the current wording is.

Traffickers who use psychological pressure to control their victims without threatening to use force or violence will be clearly identified as criminals since the bill clarifies the notion of “exploitation”. It appears that, to date, this has been a loophole.

Under the existing regime, a trafficker who has exerted significant psychological pressure on an individual can be found innocent on the grounds that the victim's life was never in danger. That is completely ridiculous.

Robert Hooper, chair of the board of directors of Walk With Me, an organization that provides first response services to victims of human trafficking, told the committee about a gap in the bill by describing a recent case involving a Hungarian migrant worker trafficking ring based in south-western Ontario.

...some of the victims were not overtly threatened with violence or death, but a very subtle version of coercion was placed upon their lives. There was never an explicit threat to their safety, but the complete isolation of the victim, leaving him or her bereft of any dignity, help, or any hope, was used as a tactic to exploit those people. They were left with absolutely no avenue to escape, left to the unknown, without language, funds, or safety. Included in the systematic, subtle coercion was the removal of official paperwork, including immigration documents and passports, from these people who had recently come to Canada.

Although those involved in this ring were finally convicted, this case illustrates the range of constraints used by traffickers to control their victims.

I have one criticism of this bill, which I am pleased to support, and that is that it does not go far enough. As is often the case with the Conservatives, the law is made more severe, but the victims are forgotten. Therefore, I encourage my colleagues to study the other measures that could be used to deal with the problem of human trafficking.

I especially appreciated the presentation by Dr. Amir Attaran, who testified in committee on this issue. This University of Ottawa law professor has studied U.S. law on human trafficking and had some interesting comments. For example, he said:

American law requires the trafficking victims be housed and be given legal help and medical treatment as victims. They are not imprisoned as criminals.

In America, the law gives foreign trafficking victims the right to stay lawfully in the country with protection so they can turn star witness and help put the trafficker in Canadian law, we don't have those victim protection measures right now.

To summarize, it is not possible to fight human trafficking by targeting only the traffickers. We also have to look after the victims. Unfortunately, Bill C-310 avoids that entire question. That said, I applaud the work done by my hon. colleague who introduced this bill, which I am pleased to support. However, we need to be concerned about the budget cuts that the Conservative government has imposed across the board.

Witnesses have said, in committee, for example, that resources are not adequate at present and there are not enough liaison officers in our embassies abroad to combat all the crimes committed outside Canada. If we really want to fight and put an end to human trafficking, there should be more RCMP liaison officers abroad and we should invest more in preventing sex crimes against children committed by Canadians. So investing in front-line services is really how we are going to tackle this problem.

In conclusion, I want to thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her bill and offer her my assistance so that we can adopt a more global approach to all these forms of modern slavery, an approach that will also take into account prevention and victim assistance.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate.

I should let the hon. member for Western Arctic know ahead of time that he will not have 10 minutes, because I must give a right of reply to the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul before 2:30 p.m.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand for even the shortest time to offer my congratulations to the member for Kildonan—St. Paul in moving the bill forward.

I followed the progress of the bill through three parliaments, and it is a great thing when a private member's bill moves toward completion. I think we all revel in it, especially when the bill is such that it attracts support from the entire House. Standing as Canadians together, we support these endeavours by individual members of Parliament.

Before I came to Parliament, there was a bill that caught my attention. It came from a Conservative MP as well. It was to remove the substance from cigarettes that kept them lit when they were not smoked. That took 20 years to get through the House of Commons. Lives were saved when that bill went through and that substances was taken out of the cigarettes so they did not fall out of someone's fingers and set something on fire or create second-hand smoke in the ashtray.

The value that private members can bring to the House is so important and it sometimes puts attention on small, definitive but extremely important issues that can change our society. To that endeavour, as MPs we should all salute this initiative.

Having said that, I will speak to the bill before my time runs out. The bill, as far as it goes, would work to deal with this issue. In some ways society has to have a greater recognition of the nature of human trafficking.

The latest example of human trafficking in Canada was on April 3. The head of the Domotor crime group, which the RCMP claims is Canada's largest human trafficking ring, was using males in the construction industry in Hamilton as slaves, a large city with labour unions, with inspectors, a city administration with better business bureaus and all those things and our society could not recognize what was happening. Could it recognize that perhaps this was going on?

We have picked off the head of this organization, but we have not changed society. It is important that we understand the people who are working for us, that we understand what is going on in our society around us and that we understand what our communities are representing. To me, that spoke volumes about the nature of our society and how we would have to move from exploitation, as we have tried at all times to do, and understand laws that would remove the opportunities for exploitation and identify for Canadians the nature of exploitation.

Certainly, if the example of this person in Hamilton does not get attention in the construction industry right across the country, there is something wrong.

It is a time for reflection. When the bill passes, when we move forward in this regard, we need to recognize that society is still the answer to most of these issues.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, today modern slavery exists in all corners of the globe. Our resolve to eliminate it must grow stronger. Bill C-310 would have a significant impact on the anti-human trafficking efforts of Canada at home as well as abroad.

I am encouraged by the strong support this legislation received at second reading and again at committee. However, I hear how supportive members opposite are, yet I was so disappointed that at report stage on March 30 members of the official opposition, the NDP, opposed the adoption of Bill C-310 at the beginning of the hour debate. This prevented any debate from taking place on that day. Instead of joining the Conservatives, Liberals, Bloc and Green MPs who sought to send this important legislation right to the Senate, the NDP forced a recorded vote at report stage, a procedural move that is unheard of when there are no new amendments.

The NDP's decision to oppose Bill C-310 on March 30 so it could vote for it on April 4 also dropped my bill to the bottom of the order paper. Were it not for the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, and I am very grateful to the member, Bill C-310 would not have come up for debate until the end of next month and the royal assent would certainly have been put off.

Today I hope all members, instead of delaying it yet another four days and because they have spoken in support of it, will pass the bill straight to the Senate.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 2:25 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:25 p.m.)