Mr. Speaker, the introduction of the human trafficking bill, which the Liberal Party supports, calls the attention of the House to the darkest aspects of the human soul. All over the world, women, children and men are deprived of their freedom and dignity. Examples of mistreatment and abuse abound in many countries, on every continent.
It is almost impossible to restrict human trafficking within a country, a city or a community. Children are forced to become soldiers in regional conflicts. Women are sexually exploited in the western world. Men toil in farming operations in the new world and the old. We powerlessly witness the proliferation of the most diverse forms of exploitation.
In earlier centuries, the slave trade was the bedrock of colonial settlement. From Santo Domingo to Haiti to Senegal to the Andean countries to the confines of Asia, this form of human exploitation prospered everywhere. We wrongly believed that eliminating the major slave trade networks from the colonial period had for all practical purposes disappeared.
However, the world today still appears to be heavily imbued with the stench of neocolonialism, in which servitude plays a fundamental role in the underpinnings of our economies.
Nowadays, efforts are being made to identify the contours of these new exploitation networks that have become an essential component of our production, distribution and consumption systems.
Children toiling on machines to produce consumer goods can be counted in the thousands. Countless women sell their bodies working for pimps. Thousands of exploited men work on tenant farms and unsanitary farms until they reach exhaustion.
All these products and services can be used to bind, exploit, abuse and discriminate. All these girls and women are raped and held against their will because of power relationships and the absence of justice.
A new bill has been added to the order paper to take away some of the latitude available to exploiters and abusers. Bill C-452 asks a fundamental question about trafficking in persons: what can be done to curb a growing phenomenon that has been taking the most unexpected forms?
By becoming more interdependent, the world can work to further advance the principles that underpin democratic regimes on the one hand, while on the other hand, it allows the proliferation of criminal systems for exploiting people. Canada's role in protecting people has been made increasingly complex as a result of the new human mobility provided by modern modes of transportation.
How can children be protected from compulsory service in armed conflicts? To be sure, concerted action has been taken by the nations of the world, at the instigation of exemplary people like General Roméo Dallaire who urge us to draw up international conventions and treaties.
Something must also be done to address the exploitation of stateless people who should have real access to international labour organizations.
Sexually exploited women should not simply be sent back, beyond our borders, but rather given our protection and the protection of other nations of the free world.
However, while Canada's ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is a step in the right direction, it must be based on criminal penalties designed to restrict the latitude of all kinds of abusers and exploiters.
This bill and its aims are certainly compelling.
We are attentive to the needs of the victims of this system of exploitation, and we believe that the elected members of this House are all aware of the social havoc wrought by human trafficking.
In another age, abolitionist legislation could have a definite effect. The centuries-long slavery of the colonialists of the past no longer exists, but has transformed itself into a modern form that is insidious and far-reaching.
We are wholeheartedly behind this bill and its goal of eliminating trafficking in children, women and men. We support this battle for freedom and dignity. However, given the scale of the phenomenon and its highly sinister ramifications, we are bound to note the limitations of our judicial intervention.
Mankind now has the financial and technical resources to eliminate human trafficking, but does it have the necessary awareness and empathy to do so?
The debate generated here by these amendments to the Criminal Code necessarily goes beyond the boundaries of parliamentary life. This is a step in the right direction. However, are the provisions for consecutive sentences contained in this bill, and the presumption of guilt established by living with an exploited person contrary to the principle this bill seeks to defend?
In Canada, in recent years, we have unfortunately seen significant restrictions placed on judicial discretion with respect to sentencing under the Criminal Code.
How can we reconcile the elimination of human trafficking systems with respect for the fundamental rights entrenched in the Canadian charter? How can we reconcile the new criminal restrictions on present-day servitude and slavery with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
We face a tremendous challenge: that of aligning our domestic legislation with the great humanist principles that guide our society. We can only be inspired by our colleague’s initiative, as she searches with us for a solution to this scourge. We believe that the elimination of these practices demands further political action along the lines of what we find in the form of this bill.
Federal policy in this area is unequivocal with respect to the educational effort required here and abroad in order to change these appalling behaviours. An inventory of the various types of human trafficking in Canada is contained in a report published in 2010 that leaves no doubt about the dimensions of modern slavery and the forms it takes.
We can only embrace this 21st-century challenge of restoring to millions of individuals a place and the resources to live their lives in dignity and respect. We must therefore be vigilant in everything we do that has an impact on the victims of human trafficking. Our refugee protection policies, our foreign policy, our financial investments and our criminal justice system are all things that can definitely contribute to the elimination of human trafficking.
I repeat: the Liberal Party will support this bill.