Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak about such an important issue, particularly since I am a young woman working in politics. Bill C-452 seeks to amend the Criminal Code in order to provide consecutive sentences for offences related to procuring and trafficking in persons.
Bill C-452 also makes it possible to reverse the burden of proof for this type of offence. The accused would therefore be considered guilty until he proves beyond doubt that he is not exploiting others. Finally, this bill adds the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons to the list of offences to which the forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
Public Safety Canada accurately describes human trafficking as one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, often described as a modern day form of slavery. It is nothing less than that. The victims, who are mostly women and children, are deprived of their normal lives and compelled to provide their labour or sexual services, through a variety of coercive practices all for the direct profit of their perpetrators. Exploitation often occurs through intimidation, force, sexual assault and threats of violence to themselves or their families.
Human trafficking is a scourge that knows no borders and affects many countries, including Canada. We must not put on our rose-coloured glasses. People need to know that this is happening here, not far from where we live.
According to the Department of Justice, it is difficult to provide accurate estimates on the full extent of trafficking in persons within Canada because victims are reluctant to come forward, and understandably so. Often victims are afraid to testify against a procurer for fear of reprisal.
The RCMP described human trafficking as a growing phenomenon. Statistics are hard to ascertain; however, estimates indicate that between 1,500 and 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the United States every year. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimates that around 600 women and children are trafficked into Canada each year for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and that this number rises to 800 when broadened to include those trafficked into Canada for other forms of forced labour.
Contrary to popular belief, victims of trafficking in Canada are not just young women from abroad. They are often Canadians. Unfortunately, trafficking of Canadian men within the country is a problem not often covered by studies and statistics about human trafficking, especially trafficking related to the sex trade. People who come to Canada to flee conditions of abject poverty in their own country can end up in a work environment where they are taken advantage of. So, too, can women from all over Canada, many of them young women in crisis and socially or economically disadvantaged women who leave their homes to join the sex trade in major Canadian cities.
There are a number of reasons why a vulnerable woman may be convinced to become a prostitute. We do not have to identify them all here. But no matter the circumstances, trafficking of Canadian men and women is a reality in our country, and it affects the most disadvantaged communities in particular.
For that reason, although Bill C-452 is a step in the right direction, we need a more comprehensive response to the problem of human trafficking. We have to wage this battle with practical resources. To solve the problem of human trafficking, we need a plan that will mobilize human, police, electronic and material resources that goes far beyond a simple bill. We need political leadership.
Surveillance of strip clubs, massage parlours and Internet networks and the creation of a joint investigative unit are solutions that should be studied. Canada must implement a strategy that will not only attack the source of the problem, but will also help the victims and support the work of our police services.
Julie Miville-Dechêne, president of the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec, also recommends establishing shelters for female trafficking victims. She said:
There are no shelters specifically for female trafficking victims. But their issues are very different from those of domestic abuse victims.
However, there could be some problems with the proposed consecutive sentencing and the presumption that reverses the burden of proof for procuring and human trafficking offences. The reversal of the burden of proof could be challenged on constitutional grounds. As my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has said in the past, passing Bill C-452 does not guarantee that sentences will be much longer. The courts could potentially base their decision on the principle of proportionality, which means that sentences served consecutively may not end up being longer than if they had been served concurrently.
Despite these pitfalls, we will be supporting Bill C-452 so that it can be studied in committee. The problem is simply too serious to ignore. I have had the opportunity to meet with organizations in my riding that help boys, girls and women who are involved in prostitution. I would like to commend Projet intervention prostitution Québec and Maison de Marthe, which do excellent work with the limited resources available to them.
I want this government to take a comprehensive approach to the issues of prostitution and human trafficking. I would like it to address them here in the House, by amending the Criminal Code, as well as on the ground, where more help is needed for truly effective action. To me a comprehensive approach includes these simple bills that allow us to deal with other related issues.
This Conservative government has dismissed a bill as effective as Bill C-400 on social housing on more than one occasion. Organizations across Quebec are scrambling to get together and call on the Conservative government not to wait until the end of March 2014, but to renew the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, immediately.
This strategy provides a solution to associated problems and can help us take a comprehensive approach to this issue. It is important. The government must renew funding for the HPS immediately, for example, by adding an extra $50 million for Quebec. I know that my colleagues agree with this idea because it is an excellent decision. It is simple. We are talking peanuts here. Compared to all the F-35s and ships that will cost billions, $50 million is nothing.
The government is slowly destroying our social safety net, which would help us take a much more sensible and thoughtful approach to this problem we are facing.
I heard my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. Movies can sometimes have a huge impact on us. The movie that hit me the most was Human Trafficking, which came out in 2005 or 2006. This movie shows us how international the problems of human trafficking and prostitution are.
It is so insidious and pervasive that we must be aware. Who knows, we may have crossed paths with people who are experiencing these problems, in downtown areas, for example. We cannot be indifferent to what they are going through. My heart goes out to them, which is why I support Bill C-452. That said, I think we must do more, because small, simple actions could help us take a broader and more sensible approach.