Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill S-223, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs).
The bill proposes much-needed reforms that would seek to end the illicit trade in organs, a trade that preys upon human suffering and desperation. Organ trafficking is a transnational and global challenge that frequently involves the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable living in under-resourced countries. Generally, wealthier individuals, often from more affluent countries, drive the demand for organs, while the supply of organs usually comes from developing regions.
While there are no known organ trafficking cases where the transplant occurred in Canada, there have been reports of Canadians participating in transplant tourism. This practice involves individuals going abroad to buy organs that are needed for medical reasons but not available in their own countries.
Those from whom the organs are extracted may be coerced, or they may be influenced to agree to organ removal through exploitation of their vulnerabilities. For example, they may be promised a significant monetary reward that would ease financial desperation. These individuals must co-operate in the organ trafficking enterprise, for example, by submitting to compatibility and other types of testing, and preparing for and undergoing surgery. Once the surgery is performed, they are often not provided the promised reward or the care necessary to heal from that ordeal, resulting in long-term complications and even death.
Organ traffickers, those who perform these surgeries, and intermediaries who locate organs for transplant capitalize on the desperation of both the sick and the impoverished. Those from whom organs are extracted are often left uncompensated and in poor health. The Canadian health care system struggles to provide care to those who return home after such surgeries, as health care providers do not have the information necessary to address complications.
Bill S-223 proposes new offences that directly target organ trafficking conduct. Some will note that we already have Criminal Code offences that criminalize organ traffickers. For example, Canada's human trafficking offences apply where traffickers recruit, transport or harbour victims to extract their organs through coercive practices. These offences apply extraterritorially, which means Canada can prosecute Canadians and permanent residents of Canada who engage in trafficking conduct abroad.
The problem is that no offences apply where organs are purchased and coercive practices cannot be proven. In so many of these cases, victims are pressured or influenced to agree to sell their organs, and even where overt forms of coercion are present, the relevant evidence is difficult to obtain, including because it may be located in another country.
In this regard, the proposed offences in Bill S-223 fill a critical gap in the law. Not only does the bill propose new offences that would criminalize facilitating and participating in extracting organs coercively, or obtaining organs in this context, but it also criminalizes facilitating and participating in extracting organs that are purchased or obtained for consideration, as well as obtaining purchased organs.
The bill also extends extraterritorial jurisdiction, which means Canadian citizens and permanent residents can be prosecuted in Canada for engaging in conduct abroad that is prohibited by the bill. This includes those who engage in transplant tourism. The bill also proposes to make foreign nationals and permanent residents who engage in conduct prohibited by the bill's offences inadmissible to Canada for having violated human or international rights, such as war crimes or crimes against humanity under section 35 of the IRPA.
The bill's objectives are consistent with international standards. For example, the World Health Organization has stated that payment for organs is likely to take unfair advantage of the poorest and most vulnerable groups. It undermines altruistic donation and leads to profiteering and human trafficking. Such payment conveys the idea that some persons lack dignity, that they are mere objects to be used by others.
Various World Health Organization documents also directly address organ trafficking, for example, the 2010 guiding principles on human cell, tissue and organ transplantation, and the 2008 declaration of Istanbul on organ trafficking and transplant tourism and commercialization, whose focus is on preventing organ trafficking and transplant tourism. The declaration recommends prohibition of transplant commercialization, a term that is used internationally to refer to treating organs as commodities to be bought and sold.
Bill S-223's reforms would place Canada at the forefront of the international community on the issue of organ trafficking. Very few countries have sought to combat organ trafficking by targeting the demand that fuels this harmful trade. I am very proud of what this bill's legislative history shows: that combatting organ trafficking is an issue all partisans in Canada can support.
Health Canada continues to lead an initiative called the organ donation and transplantation collaborative in order to help increase access to legal and safe organ transplantation. The collaborative's goal is to achieve organ donation improvements that result in better patient outcomes and an increase in the number and quality of successful transplantations.
There are many impressive actions taken by the collaborative to achieve change in this space, including creating a pan-Canadian data system that will support decisions, avoid missed opportunities and improve patient care; identifying decision-making and accountability mechanisms to ensure Canadians have access to an organ donation and transplantation system that responds to their needs and those of their families; maximizing donor identification in hospitals and referrals to transplantation services across Canada; identifying underserved populations and improving patients' access to post-transplantation care in remote communities; increasing living donation as a preferred treatment option for kidneys and the liver, for example; and supporting health care professionals through professional education.
These efforts, together with Bill S-223, will make Canada a world leader in responding to organ trafficking. While many like-minded countries regulate the transplantation of human organs and prohibit organ trafficking in the same way Canada currently does, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, few countries have criminalized purchasing organs, including transplant tourism.
The government supports the Criminal Code reforms proposed by this bill and will continue to work toward bringing them into force. We are committed to ensuring the bill's reforms support their objective of ending organ trafficking in all its forms, including the commercialization of human body parts, and the harm it causes to those impacted and to all of society.