moved that Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, after a number of years of work and consultation, it is a great honour for me to introduce in the House Bill C-452, which seeks to help victims of human trafficking obtain justice in an environment in which they are better protected.
This bill also seeks to help the police officers and prosecutors who are working to combat this new form of slavery—let us say it—get the tools they need to lay charges and ensure that criminals are given sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.
I would like to thank the individuals and groups who worked with me to put this bill together, including police officers from the SPVM morality branch and child sexual exploitation unit, criminal lawyers from the Barreau du Québec and women's and human trafficking victims' advocacy groups, such as the Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale, Afeas, the Regroupement québécois des centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, Concertation-Femme, Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes and Maison de Marthe. These groups were very involved in the drafting of this bill.
I would also like to thank everyone else who has supported this bill, namely the Collectif de l'Outaouais contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the diocèse de l'Outaouais de la condition des femmes and, of course, the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec.
Before introducing the bill, I would like to quickly describe human trafficking in Canada. Unfortunately, it is a rather significant problem in Canada and also in Quebec.
There is no question that, in Canada, an estimated 80% to 90% of the victims of trafficking are destined for the sex trade. There are also victims exploited for forced labour in Canada. This is quite atypical, but it does exist nevertheless.
Canada is unfortunately considered to be a country of recruitment, destination and transit, transit to the United States in particular. The most popular cities are Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York and Las Vegas, as you can imagine. Canada is also considered a tourist destination: not just the usual tourism, but also sex tourism.
Contrary to what one might think, this sort of thing does not happen only in developing countries. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada indicates in its 2001 report that, in Canada, the average age of entry into prostitution is 14. In Canada, the majority of victims of trafficking are women between the ages of 12 and 25.
According to 2004 figures from the U.S. State Department, every year an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 persons are victims of trafficking from Canada to the United States. It is estimated that traffickers bring approximately 600 women and children into Canada to service the Canadian sex industry.
The main points of transit and destination for victims of interprovincial and international trafficking are Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The Sûreté du Québec estimates that 80% of the strip clubs in Quebec under its jurisdiction are owned by criminal groups, often under fronts. So this is an industry that is dominated by organized crime and, unfortunately, street gangs.
Girls recruited in Atlantic Canada can wind up in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, and vice versa. They are on the move. That is typical of human trafficking. Although this odious trade is dominated by organized crime, street gangs have become new players in recent years. The Montreal police service has declared human trafficking to be one of its priorities in the fight against crime.
It is thought that since the end of the 1990s, street gang members have transitioned from small-time recruiters to high-level pimps, specializing in child prostitution of young girls, mostly between the ages of 11 to 25. A girl can bring in around $280,000 a year, depending on her looks and age. Twenty girls could bring in around $6 million. That is a lot of money.
This is a business with little risk and is inexpensive to manage. Most of these guys say that they just have to beat, rape or torture the girl or give her some drugs and she will go to the meeting on her own. As it stands right now, the punishments are insignificant. For example, a pimp in Peel region exploited, tortured and raped a 15-year-old girl for two years. This earned him about $360,000 a year and he was sentenced to three years.
This bill would bring justice to the victims and make it easier for police officers and prosecutors. What does the bill do? Many prosecutors and police officers I spoke to told me that, in general, human trafficking was seen as an international phenomenon and that people were trafficked either from Canada to other countries or from other countries to Canada. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code is misinterpreted.
This misconception is gradually disappearing, but there are still some people who believe it. Young people from the regions of Quebec or from aboriginal reserves across Canada are unfortunately ending up in trafficking rings that bring them to large Canadian cities and tourist areas such as Niagara Falls or Montreal during the Grand Prix.
Domestic trafficking definitely happens in Canada. In my opinion, it accounts for a significant proportion of criminal activity in Canada. Victims of this type of human trafficking are between 14 and 25 years of age. The bill before us improves subsection 279.01(1) by making it clear that human trafficking is not only an international phenomenon, but also a domestic one. I have added the phrase, “Every person who, in a domestic or international context, recruits, transports...” This clarification will ensure that individuals, police officers and prosecutors understand exactly what that section means.
The current section 279.04 includes provisions on trafficking in organs and forced labour. As we all know, most human trafficking is for purposes of sexual exploitation, and as such, I added subsection 279.04(1.1), which is specifically about sexual exploitation. This definition, if I can call it that, is drawn from the Palermo protocol on human trafficking and international crime, which Canada ratified on May 13, 2002. This addition addresses all aspects of sexual exploitation, thereby enabling Canada to fulfill its Palermo protocol commitment.
On another note, human trafficking and procuring offences are often associated with other violent crimes. However, even when several charges are associated with a particular incident, traffickers often get away with short sentences because they are served concurrently. Unfortunately, sentences for human trafficking are softer than sentences for drug trafficking.
This is despite the fact that these people, whom I would call slavers, commit very serious crimes. Victims are tortured, confined, raped, forced into prostitution and so on. It is important to take all of the factors related to an incident into account. This bill would ensure that sentences for human trafficking or procuring and associated crimes are served consecutively.
The other problem that police officers and prosecutors have raised is their ability to help or persuade a victim to testify. Those practising in this area of the law often find that victims do not want to testify. Why? Because they are experiencing severe post-traumatic stress and are, quite naturally, afraid of being victimized. Many groups that work with these victims have told me that the victim should no longer have to bear the burden of proof.
Subsection 212(3) of the current Criminal Code already includes the notion of reversal of the burden of proof in cases of procuring. The same reversal of the burden of proof for the offence of trafficking was therefore added to this bill in subclause 279.01(3).
Therefore, as soon as the police have enough proof to lay charges, they will not necessarily need a victim's testimony. The reversal of the burden of proof exists for procuring. I believe that it should simply also be applied to human trafficking.
My favourite part of this bill deals with the forfeiture of proceeds of crime. Unfortunately, it is well known in the policing world that human trafficking is very profitable. It is profitable because a girl can bring in a lot of money for a pimp and it is highly unlikely that she will file a complaint against him. The pimp does not need to manage anything or make large purchases to run the business. So the pimp makes a lot of money.
Currently, subsection 462.37(2.02), which deals with forfeiture of proceeds of crime, allows for criminally obtained goods to be seized in cases of criminal organization offences punishable by five or more years of imprisonment and offences under section 5, 6 or 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I feel that human trafficking and procuring offences should also be covered by this section. This bill adds those two provisions to section 462.37.
To conclude, I would like to ask my colleagues to do something meaningful for victims of human trafficking. We need to remember that we do not need to go to Thailand to see children as young as 12, 13 or 14 in this business. And, unfortunately, we cannot forget that adults are victims of this business as well. The majority of the victims of this business—if we can call it that—are women, young girls and children. I feel it is more a form of slavery. I believe that we need to rise above partisan politics on this issue. It is our duty to strengthen the human trafficking provisions of the Criminal Code.
I would like to thank the members, and I ask them to support this bill in the name of justice and, above all, in the name of humanity.