Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the second reading debate on Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons). I believe the bill addresses a matter of utmost importance: the criminal justice system must respond effectively to the crime of human trafficking.
Bill C-452 seeks to achieve the important goal of strengthening the criminal justice system's response to this heinous crime. Bill C-452's predecessor, Bill C-612, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), also sponsored by the member of Parliament for Ahuntsic, proposed similar amendments but died on the order paper at second reading with the dissolution of Parliament in 2011.
The objectives of the bill merit support. Its proposals seek to hold offenders accountable, impose penalties that befit the severity of the crime and assist in ensuring that offenders do not reap the rewards of their wrongdoing. There are, however, some legal issues raised by the bill's proposals, which I have no doubt can be addressed through amendments.
Bill C-452 proposes to amend the Criminal Code in a number of different ways.
First, it seeks to require that sentences imposed for procuring, section 212, and trafficking offences, sections 279.01 to 279.03, be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed. It also seeks to clarify that the main trafficking offence, section 279.01, would apply regardless of whether the crime occurred in a domestic or international context.
Further, it would add a presumption that an accused is exploiting a trafficking victim if he or she is shown to be habitually in the company of that victim. It would modify the definition of exploitation for the purposes of the trafficking offences to include specified means.
It would also modify the provision that imposes a reverse onus for forfeiture of proceeds of crime for certain offences to apply to both procuring and trafficking offences. Finally, it would make a small technical amendment to the French definition of exploitation, in section 279.04.
One concern raised by certain proposals in the bill involves the Bedford case, which is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. Bedford involves a Charter challenge to three prostitution-related Criminal Code provisions, including living on the avails of prostitution offence, paragraph 212.(1)(j), which is contained in the procuring provision, section 212. Any amendments impacting on this provision could compromise the government's defence of its constitutionality.
Another concern is that some of the proposals relate to issues already addressed by former Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), which was sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul and came into force in June 2012.
Former Bill C-310 extended extraterritorial jurisdiction for all Criminal Code trafficking offences and clarified the definition of exploitation in section 279.04 by creating an interpretive tool to assist courts in determining whether a person has exploited another for the purposes of the Criminal Code trafficking offences.
New amendments that overlap with recently enacted reforms could cause confusion in the law, which may create inconsistency in enforcement and interpretation. These concerns and others could be addressed through amendments to ensure consistency and clarity in the law and manage legal risk.
The bottom line, however, is that we should all support any proposals that would strengthen our response to a crime that is as pernicious and heinous as human trafficking. This crime is commonly referred to as a form of modern-day slavery.
There has been some confusion, both within Canada and internationally, about the nature of this crime. Given the breadth of the issue, the complicated way in which it can be carried out and the diversity of both its victims and its perpetrators, it is no wonder that the global community has struggled with defining it.
However, I can say to Canadians that our government continues to take steps to improve our responses to this very destructive criminal activity.
On June 6, 2012, the government launched Canada's national action plan to combat human trafficking to enhance our ability to prevent this crime, better support victims and ensure that traffickers are held accountable. We are directing more than $25 million over four years to implement this plan.
Specifically, the national action plan emphasizes the need for awareness in vulnerable populations, support for victims, dedicated law enforcement efforts and for all Canadians to prevent the trafficking of individuals.
Among other things, the national action plan launched Canada's first integrated law enforcement team dedicated to combatting human trafficking; increased front-line training to identify and respond to human trafficking and enhance prevention in vulnerable communities; provides more support for victims of this crime, both Canadians and newcomers; and strengthens the coordination with domestic and international partners who contribute to Canada's efforts to combat human trafficking.
Further to this, Canada ratified the United Nations protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The protocol's definition of human trafficking is consistent with Canada's four specific trafficking in persons offences, which provide us with a comprehensive domestic definition of this horrible crime. There are also many other Criminal Code offences that can be used to address related conduct.
As I mentioned, we have four trafficking-specific offences in our Criminal Code. The main offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, protects all persons by prohibiting the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purposes of exploitation.
The child trafficking offence, section 279.011, is the same as the main trafficking offence, with the exception that it imposes mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking in children. It was enacted by another bill sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul, former Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years), which came into force in June 2010.
I noticed that my colleague from the Bloc, who was speaking, mentioned a person under the age of 12. This unfortunately is something that does touch our children.
The two other trafficking-specific offences prohibit receiving a material benefit from the trafficking of a person and withholding or destroying documents in order to facilitate the trafficking of a person, sections 279.02 and 279.03. The Criminal Code also defines exploitation for the purposes of these offences in section 279.04.
Bill C-452 would add heavier penalties to this important group of offences by requiring the imposition of consecutive sentences for engaging in this type of reprehensible conduct. No one would disagree that penalties for this type of offence should be severe.
Bill C-452 would also require a sentencing court to order the forfeiture of offenders' property unless they disprove that their property is the proceeds of crime. We must ensure that traffickers are not permitted to keep the financial benefits of their insidious exploitation of others.
Bill C-452 would also create a presumption that would assist prosecutors in proving the main trafficking offences by proving a related fact, that the accused lived with or was habitually in the company of an exploited person. This type of offence is very difficult to investigate and prosecute, especially given that witnesses are usually afraid to come forward due to threats and intimidation. In particular, such a presumption could assist in holding an accused accountable or the prosecution's case rests heavily on the fact that the accused was living with or habitually in the company of an exploited person. However, this proposal requires amendments to ensure that it applies equally to the child trafficking offence, and the language should also be consistent with other Criminal Code presumptions so that the proposed presumption achieves its goal. These amendments would assist in securing convictions, ensure that punishment is proportional to the severity of the crime and deprive offenders of their ill-gotten gains.
I believe these are goals we can all support.