Human trafficking is an issue that I am really passionate about. I have had the opportunity to talk with groups such as CATHII, the International Bureau for Children's Rights, World Vision Canada, Half the Sky Québec and Walk With Me Canada, and also with experts such as Professor Yvon Dandurand, Professor Jill Hanley and Detective Sergeant Dominic Monchamp of the Montreal police force.
I have also listened to evidence from many experts and victims at meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and when I travelled to Thailand with World Vision Canada two years ago. As a result of these experiences, I am truly horrified by this serious situation, and I believe that it is urgent that we move quickly to make progress in this area.
For that reason, I support Bill C-452, which would amend the Criminal Code in order to provide better protection for victims of trafficking by setting out a legal definition of exploitation and including consecutive sentences for offences related to procuring and trafficking in persons.
To start with, we must take some time to explain what we are really talking about when we use the words “trafficking” and “exploitation”.
Trafficking in and exploitation of persons is an odious crime that can take several forms. The most common are forcible confinement; forced movement from one country to another, one province to another or one city to another; and forced labour and prostitution, when a profit is made by the person exploiting these victims. What all these crimes have in common is the fact that they are degrading, violate human dignity, and are characterized by incredible abuse, which can be physical, verbal or psychological.
The main victims are women and children, who represent 80% of persons affected by human trafficking, as indicated by a 2005 International Labour Organization study. The most vulnerable are the usual victims of this scourge, and it is our duty to do everything we can to protect them. We must not forget that almost 50% of victims are minors.
Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human exploitation. Once again, women and children are the main victims. In fact, 98% of the victims of sexual exploitation are women. Over half of them are minors.
Canada is not immune to the scourge of human trafficking. We have a real problem of human trafficking and exploitation right here in this country, and yet very few people realize the scope of the problem.
I know because, about a year ago, I showed the film Avenue Zéro in my office. I received many calls and emails from people who said that they had no idea that this was happening in their own backyards. Part of my riding, an area of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, is unfortunately known for human trafficking and prostitution. However, the general population is completely unaware of this problem.
As for human trafficking across international borders, the most recent official figures from the RCMP date back to 2005, which is quite a while ago. Perhaps more statistics are needed. In fact, the RCMP estimates that every year, about 800 individuals enter Canada illegally as a result of human trafficking, and about 1,500 to 2,000 are trafficked from Canada to the United States.
As for human trafficking within Canada, we do not currently have sufficiently clear and reliable statistics to establish exact figures. The studies done in Canada on human trafficking and exploitation often overlook the issue of trafficking in Canadian citizens and residents within the country.
It is possible, however, to assess the scope of this phenomenon and paint a picture of the people affected by human trafficking and exploitation in Canada based on studies done by international organizations and on the ample testimony of victims.
In 2009, for instance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime led a study that found that 80% of the victims of human trafficking are trafficked for the purpose of prostitution. This observation also applies in Canada. Those most affected are women who enter Canada illegally through human trafficking, but Canadian citizens are also affected, including a significant proportion of young women from aboriginal communities. As we know, exploitation is often the result of extreme economic insecurity and a lack of knowledge of individual rights.
Like these hundreds of people who enter Canada each year to flee deplorable living conditions in their country of origin, a growing number of Canadians are faced with poverty and limited access to education. Every year, poverty pushes young girls from disadvantaged communities and aboriginal peoples to move to urban centres and leave their families behind. They are easy prey, for pimps in particular who force them to sell their bodies no matter how old they are.
The figures provided by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada on this are clear: the average age of entry into prostitution in our country is 14. As my colleague mentioned, if the age of entry into prostitution is 14, that means there are clients requesting 14-year-old girls, which is absolutely disgusting.
In light of the gravity of the facts and the extent of the tragedy, I think it is necessary to act as quickly as possible. We must remain focused because solving the problem of trafficking and exploitation requires a comprehensive strategy, including reducing the economic inequalities in our country and fighting the organized crime that is at the root of human trafficking worldwide.
Nevertheless, I know that Bill C-452 introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Ahuntsic, is a first step in the right direction. Her bill considerably improves the legal avenues we have for fighting exploitation and it sends a clear message to human trafficking abusers and victims: we will not allow the current situation to go on much longer.
I support the legal approach taken by Bill C-452. The bill's proposed changes to sections 279.01 and 462.27 of the Criminal Code are essential for giving our police officers and our lawyers the means for effectively fighting human exploitation and trafficking.
First, the new section 279.01 would give the justice system the necessary tools for identifying cases of exploitation, through a complete list of circumstances that are deemed to constitute exploitation. That said, Bill C-452 provides a clearer and more precise definition of exploitation to ensure better victim protection. The changes made to section 462.27 of the Criminal Code, which seek to introduce offences of procuring and human trafficking, will enable more effective police action.
Bill C-452 would give the police and our justice system the means to work together to successfully combat human trafficking and exploitation. I had the opportunity to listen to Inspector Gordon Perrier, from the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Winnipeg Police Service, when he testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in April. He said the following: “Combatting exploitation requires a broad range of commitments on many fronts, and all the practices police and our partners employ come together when the laws are comprehensive”.
I am absolutely convinced that, in addition to being a significant legal breakthrough in the fight against human trafficking, Bill C-452 also holds great symbolic value. Indeed, it sends a strong signal to victims of human trafficking—to women, especially aboriginal women. There is an opportunity here to refocus the law on victim protection by providing for denunciatory and consecutive sentences, which the accused must serve consecutively to any other sentence handed down by a judge.
Indeed, making the perpetrators spend more time in prison gives their victims enough time to begin their healing process, with greater peace. In doing this, we show our commitment to uphold human dignity. When we fight human trafficking we are fighting against the commodification of women and children, who are now being imported and exported, sold and resold. We are also fighting against the commodification of men who are forced to work, and against the sexual exploitation of the weakest and poorest by unscrupulous individuals and organized crime.
To conclude, I would like to take the time to talk about human trafficking for forced labour, which we might call “slavery”. In my riding, I know that there are both domestic and seasonal workers who come to Canada and are forced to work. This is not sexual exploitation; although it was mentioned that sexual exploitation accounts for 80% to 90% of cases, there are all kinds of trafficking, which Bill C-452 is designed to reduce as much as possible.
I also think that we will soon need to talk about prevention, because when some young women arrive in cities and urban areas, they often fall into prostitution at the age of 14, through no fault of their own. We should therefore start working on prevention with these young women.