moved that Bill S-224, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague across the way. This bill is indeed a great way to end the week. Today I rise to speak to Bill S-224, a non-partisan bill that passed unanimously in the Senate on October 6.
I thank Senator Salma Ataullahjan for her collaborative effort and success in getting this bill through the Senate.
I thank the member for St. Albert for speaking today, for his support and for seconding this bill, as well as the member for Peace River—Westlock for his unending commitment to ending human trafficking. God bless him.
I want to thank an amazing community of supporters, victims, moms and dads, survivors and workers, including Lynda Harlos, Jocelyn Siciliano, Jasmine DeFina, Vanessa Falcon, Kim Miller-Sands, Lillian Fisher, Donald Igbokwe, the Durham Regional Police Service human trafficking unit, and Ms. Holly Wood who is here today.
These individuals and many more like them have been infected by a seemingly contagious affliction, which is a desire to do good and to make a difference in the lives of those most vulnerable victims in our communities. These people are heroes, and they are saving lives every single day with the work that they do.
This indeed is a rare opportunity and a rare occasion. When an MP has the opportunity to bring both Houses together for a common cause, it is truly an honour. The bill is a seemingly small bill. It is less than one page. It represents a small change, but a small change that will make a big difference in the lives of so many vulnerable people, people denied justice and people denied their human dignity.
This modern-day slavery initiative was brought to my attention by Darla, a survivor, friend and one of my constituents. As a father, her story motivated me to look for real solutions to this problem. At its heart, Bill S-224 aims to align the Canadian Criminal Code's definition of trafficking in persons with that of the 2000 Palermo protocol. Importantly, this would remove the unfair burden placed on exploited individuals who, under current Canadian law, must prove that there was an element of fear in their abuse in order to obtain a conviction in court.
I want members to pause and to think about this for a moment. A crime is committed. There is no debate whether the acts have occurred, yet under current Canadian law the victim is required to prove fear in order for a conviction to occur.
To emphasize the absurdity of this situation, let us apply this requirement to another crime. Imagine that someone I know comes up and stabs me in the back. In politics that term is used rather loosely, but indeed this crime does occur in reality. How would I prove fear in that situation? Would the offender be convicted if there was absolute proof of the crime, but fear could not be proven? I have to ask. Why do we treat this particular crime of human trafficking so differently?
Indeed, members, as I look around the House, we can agree that something needs to change. This is not justice. Human trafficking is a scourge, mostly on vulnerable young people and their families across our entire country, in my area and in yours. I am hopeful that my colleagues, regardless of their political stripe, will approach this effort on a non-partisan basis and help me secure this long-overdue change to Canada's Criminal Code.
Human trafficking does not discriminate against rich or poor and no matter one's background. My goal is simple. It is to ensure that our country and our local communities are safer for our most vulnerable young people. Who could be against that?
These victims often think their abusers are their friends and that their abusers care for them and love them. Those of us not involved in human trafficking can see that this is not the case. We see the coercion. We see the manipulation. We see the lies. We owe these victims a chance for truth, a chance for justice.
Often when these cases are brought to court, the Crown’s case depends on the victim's testimony. It may be the only evidence against the trafficker. Without the victim's testimony, there is no case. In Canada, sometimes it takes years for these cases to come to court. There the victims can be victimized again and again.
We all remember that sad case in Alberta, when a federal judge actually asked a victim in a sexual assault trial, “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?” I ask members if this is the justice system that Canadians want. I suggest that whether or not the crime of human trafficking has occurred should only be defined by the perpetrator’s actions rather than the victim's experience.
Victims should not be revictimized by the system. We owe it to victims to make this small change that will make such a huge difference. By amending the Criminal Code to reflect the international definition of “trafficking in persons”, as outlined in the Palermo protocol, we will enable the Crown to efficiently convict traffickers.
I want to talk a bit about timelines. The Palermo protocol was adopted in November 2000, 22 years ago, at the 55th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. It had 117 signatories, and guess what. That included Canada. Human trafficking is defined as “the act of recruiting, transporting, harbouring and receiving a person by means of coercion, abuse of power or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” There is nothing controversial about this.
More than 22 years have passed, yet this small but important change is still not reflected in Canada's Criminal Code. Let us not continue to make this another example of Canada's promises that never see concrete action. This bill is about protecting vulnerable Canadians from predators who exploit their victims for personal gain, and sadly, that gain is becoming greater and much more lucrative.
I will give some statistics. Human trafficking generates more than $32 billion annually and abuses over 40 million victims each year. The number of victims worldwide is greater than the entire population of Canada, and believe me, these numbers are under-reported.
Unfortunately, human trafficking is seen as a low-risk criminal activity here in Canada with a very high reward. According to Statistics Canada, less than 8% of perpetrators charged with human trafficking have ever been prosecuted. Let us think about that and also consider that very few perpetrators are even charged with this crime. Therefore, the number of those ultimately held to account for this modern-day slavery is dismally low and, I would say, embarrassing. We as a country can do better and we as a country need to do better.
I stand here today for Darla from Oshawa and countless other human trafficking survivors. I stand here today for their families and family members such as Lynda, who is an Oshawa mom of a human trafficking survivor. I stand here today for our youth and the most vulnerable Canadians. I invite all members to stand with me. I hope every member in the House supports this initiative.
I stand here for those who are being exploited tonight, right now, in plain sight, and some right outside my office doors in downtown Oshawa. This does not end at my doorstep. Each member of the House of Commons can be sure that this is happening outside each of their doorsteps as well.
My colleague from Peace River—Westlock has a statistic that puts things into perspective. I remember the first time I heard this, and I could not believe it. He said that the crime of human trafficking is happening today within 10 blocks or 10 minutes from one's home.
Human trafficking is on the rise, and it relies on abuse, coercion and manipulation. As I have said, victims of human trafficking are often convinced that their traffickers are their friends or boyfriends. Traffickers have made promises of clothes, money, work, drugs, education and even protection.
Many victims truly and naively believe that their trafficker has their best interests at heart. We know that is not true. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable for a reason, as they can resort to violence and threats to make their victims do what they are told.
Traffickers seek out young people dealing with substance abuse, traumas, addictions, abuse or homelessness. Women and girls, indigenous children, new immigrants, persons living with disabilities, LGBTQ2+ individuals and migrant workers are among the most at-risk groups.
How can we continue to put so much responsibility on these victims who have endured such unimaginable atrocities? It is time for us to take action to lift the yolk of responsibility and pain, and give victims a chance of escaping their abuser.
Senator Ataullahjan said:
Most survivors do not identify as victims as a result of manipulation and gaslighting. They can believe their trafficker cares for them. We owe them the necessary help and care. Instead, they must prove that they fear for their life on the stand, often only a few metres from their trafficker. Victims are usually the only evidence against traffickers. Without their testimony, the Crown has no case. Testimony shows that the fear-based model is the biggest issue when dealing with convictions and that the experience is more traumatizing than being forced to work in the sex trade. They must relive their nightmare during that preliminary and then at the trial.
During cross-examination, it is common for the defence lawyer to twist their words and call them a liar.
If we do not take our responsibility seriously, our duty to amend the Criminal Code, then these cases depend upon the victim’s ability to perform on the witness stand. Remember, this is the same victim who we just described as being vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation.
Some of these victims do not have the strength to fight our current system. They do not have the strength to stand up against slick lawyers and a system stacked against them. This is not justice, and it usually results in charges being dropped. We need to give victims every tool possible to allow the return of their dignity and their humanity.
The goal of Bill S-224 is to implement a simple amendment to the Criminal Code, a very small modification, that would make a huge difference in the ability of the Crown to prosecute human traffickers. There should be no more settling for a dismal 8% prosecution rate. The time to do better is now, today, while this historic opportunity presents itself.
To Darla, the moms and dads, and everyone involved in ending human trafficking, this small change can happen. The time to end 22 years of inaction is now. The opportunity will not be lost.