Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Peace River—Westlock for his strong interest and advocacy around this issue, and I hope to have an opportunity to respond to his concerns.
Our government, the justice minister, and myself take the issue of sex trafficking and exploitation of women and girls very seriously. As the member has indicated, the statistics that he quoted are from a unit for which I was responsible and oversaw for well over a decade. I was actually involved in the original establishment of it.
We are committed to the fight against all forms of human trafficking, both at home and globally. Like many countries, Canada focuses on a multipronged approach of prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership-building in order to combat this very serious and heinous crime.
Canada has very strong laws to prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, including for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The Criminal Code contains provisions dealing with adult trafficking, child trafficking, materially benefiting from human trafficking, and withholding or destroying identity documents to commit this crime. The maximum penalties for these offences range from five years to life imprisonment.
Other Criminal Code offences of general application can also be used in cases of sex trafficking in order to help hold traffickers accountable, including offences related to kidnapping, forcible confinement, sexual assault, and prostitution-related offences, which includes advertising the sale of sexual services.
The advertising offence, which is punishable by a maximum of five years on indictment and 18 months upon summary conviction, targets individuals who place advertisements in print media, or posts them on websites. It also allows our courts to order the seizure of materials containing advertisements for sexual services and their removal from the Internet. Publishers or website administrators can also be held criminally responsible as parties if they are aware of the existence and purpose of the ad.
Although the federal government has jurisdiction over criminal law, the enforcement of these laws is primarily an area of provincial responsibility. The federal government continues to collaborate closely with our provincial and territorial partners through the federal Human Trafficking Task Force and the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre. The National Coordination Centre regularly gathers intelligence to maintain an ongoing threat assessment of this crime in Canada, and to coordinate efforts at the national level.
Our government understands the pressing concern that Backpage.com contains erotic service ads that would advertise the sexual services of minors and sex trafficking victims. I am aware that, in the past, the advertising website Craigslist also hosted similar ads and then removed them. Following the removal of the ads on Craigslist, many of these same ads resurfaced on Backpage.com.
It is also my understanding, and has been indicated by the member for Peace River—Westlock, that some law enforcement agencies use these advertisements as investigative tools to identify, locate, and rescue sex trafficked victims. When traffickers are caught through an exotic service ad, they may be charged not only with the advertising offence but also with other more serious offences, such as procuring or human trafficking. The result is that these offenders are punished severely. Given that these ads can occasionally act as enforcement tools, the actions of the government must take full account of the complexities of responding to these horrific offences.
This is why this government, through the human trafficking task force and the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, continues to work closely with experts, front-line workers, investigators, and the police to carefully explore all options to address this concerning issue in keeping all victims of human trafficking safe.