Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-452, which seeks to address the issue of human trafficking. I have already spoken several times about different aspects of this issue.
For example, in April, I spoke in favour of Bill C-310 to combat human trafficking in Canada and abroad. Then, in October, I spoke about Bill C-4, which seeks to combat the irregular arrival of refugee groups. At that time, I spoke out against the government's approach, which risks unduly punishing legitimate refugees rather than going after traffickers.
The issue of human trafficking is very broad and takes many forms. It is very important for Parliament to address the various forms of slavery because I firmly believe that the state has a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
I am pleased to support Bill C-452, which amends the Criminal Code in order to provide consecutive sentences for offences related to procuring and trafficking in persons. It also creates a presumption regarding the exploitation of one person by another and adds circumstances that are deemed to constitute exploitation. Finally, it adds the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons to the list of offences to which the forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
I am pleased to support this bill because, first, instead of punishing victims of human trafficking, it seeks to punish procurers and traffickers. I would like to commend my colleague for introducing this bill because she really took the time to consult the community and get the primary stakeholders in the field involved.
I would like to mention some groups that support the principle of the bill. They are: the Council on the Status of Women, the Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale, the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, the Regroupement 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, the Collectif de l'Outaouais contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the diocèse de l'Outaouais de la condition des femmes and Maison de Marthe. It is important to consult experts and the community stakeholders affected by this issue.
In order to help hon. members grasp the scope of this problem, I would like to quote some excerpts from a recent RCMP report on this issue:
Recent convictions of human trafficking have mostly involved victims who are citizens and/or permanent residents of Canada trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been mostly associated with organized prostitution occurring discreetly behind fronts, like escort agencies and residential brothels.
...foreign national sex workers who engage illegally in the sex trade are vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked.
Organized crime networks with Eastern European links have been involved in the organized entry of women from former Soviet States into Canada for employment in escort services in the Greater Toronto Area and possibly in massage and escort services in the Montreal area. These groups have demonstrated transnational capabilities and significant associations with convicted human traffickers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belarus, and Israel.
Some convicted offenders of domestic human trafficking were found to be affiliated to street gangs known to law enforcement for their pimping culture.
[Finally, we note that] [s]ignificant human trafficking indicators were identified in some cases involving foreign national domestic workers who were smuggled into Canada by their employers. These live-in domestic workers were controlled, threatened, underpaid, and forced to work by their employers.
There is no question that the violence associated with this type of trafficking mainly affects women and girls, and therefore children. In 98% of the cases, the victims of sexual exploitation are women.
I want to point out that aboriginal women are overrepresented among victims. As I explained earlier, this is a worldwide phenomenon that represents a lot of money. According to the UN, this crime reportedly brings in $32 billion a year for organized crime groups.
Since we are talking about sexual exploitation, I want to mention the controversial comments made by Tom Flanagan that were reported in the news this week. Tom Flanagan is a former advisor and mentor to the Prime Minister. This week he said that looking at child pornography does not hurt anyone. This libertarian said:
What’s wrong with child pornography—in the sense that it’s just pictures?...I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.
Although he later apologized, these uninformed comments are quite shocking coming from someone so educated and with so much influence. It is shameful. For someone to look at child pornography, the child pornography must first be produced, which means that children suffer and become victims of abuse.
As Elizabeth Cannon, the president of the University of Calgary, said, “...child pornography is not a victimless crime. All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children.”
I know that the Prime Minister has condemned Tom Flanagan's shameful comments about victims of child pornography. But the Prime Minister has been surrounding himself with some rather unsavoury people, which would lead us to believe that he is the one who is lacking judgment. In addition to Tom Flanagan, who trivialized child sexual exploitation, there is Arthur Porter, the fraudster involved in the McGill University Health Centre scandal who was appointed by the Prime Minister to the Security Intelligence Review Committee. There is also Bruce Carson, a former member of the Prime Minister's inner circle who is now facing charges of influence peddling. And, of course, there is Senator Brazeau, who was appointed to the Senate even though there were many complaints of misconduct against him, and he has now been charged for assaulting a woman.
So it does not mean much to me when government members criticize opposition members for being too soft on criminals. They should start by taking a look at their own ranks. But I digress. I will now get back to talking about the content of the bill.
As I said at the beginning, this bill is a step in the right direction. However, we need to address the issue of human trafficking with a far more ambitious plan that mobilizes human, police, electronic and material resources and goes far beyond a simple bill. I would like to see a comprehensive program that addresses the root of the problem, helps victims and supports the work of law enforcement agencies. I would like to see this bill studied in detail in committee, so that we can specifically look at whether it is constitutional to reverse the burden of proof in relation to the presumption regarding the exploitation of a person.
The other problem with this bill is that it provides for consecutive sentences for offences of procuring and human trafficking. That is the key measure in this bill. It may be struck down by the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada often cites the principle of proportionality in sentencing. For example, the bill provides that a pimp who assaults and exploits a woman would receive consecutive sentences. But even if we pass this measure, the courts may adjust the sentences for each offence in order to comply with the principle of proportionality. The punishment must fit the crime.
Once again, I would like to say that I support the content and principle of the bill, but I would like to hear from experts in committee so that they can provide us with constructive proposals.