Madam Speaker, I am excited to add my voice to this debate on Bill S-224 as well, and I want to acknowledge the hard work of the sponsor of this bill, Senator Ataullahjan, who worked hard to steer it through the Senate, and the MP for Oshawa, who has been working hard with stakeholders and survivors to advance this bill, since 2019 actually. Both of these members are members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, an organization of which I am one of the co-chairs. I want to thank all of the folks who are members of that organization for their help as well.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that turns people into objects to be used and exploited. It is vicious, it is profitable and it is growing here and around the world. I often say that human trafficking is happening within 10 blocks or 10 minutes of where one lives. Even in my large rural riding in northern Alberta, we have had human trafficking cases as well. We know that the vast majority of human trafficking victims in Canada are female, young and indigenous. The reality is that anybody can become a human trafficking victim, so this is a critical issue.
There are many survivors, frontline organizations and law enforcement people working to bring justice for victims and stop human traffickers, but our human trafficking offences are not accomplishing what we want them to do. Here in Canada, we are not fully aligned with the Palermo protocol that Canada signed over 20 years ago. Specifically, within the human trafficking offences in section 279 of the Criminal Code, there is a definition of exploitation that states:
a person exploits another person if they cause them to provide, or offer to provide, labour or a service by engaging in conduct that, in all the circumstances, could reasonably be expected to cause the other person to believe that their safety or the safety of a person known to them would be threatened if they failed to provide... the labour or service.
The problem with this definition is that it places the burden of the offence in the mindset of the victim rather than in the actions of the trafficker, as the Palermo protocol calls for. The actions that traffickers use are threat of the use of force or coercion or threats to other people. They use fraud or deception or the abuse of power or the abuse of vulnerability to enslave another person.
UBC law professor Janine Benedet testified at the committee and said that the challenge with the existing definition of the Criminal Code is that:
we've adopted a definition that is much narrower and much harder to prove than the definition of trafficking that you will find in the Palermo protocol.
The definition of exploitation in Canada requires a proven threat to safety, and does not extend to keeping someone in prostitution through the exploitation of a condition of vulnerability, which is part of the Palermo definition.
...police and prosecutors are shifting trafficking cases over to these other offences, because it's so difficult to actually prove the very narrow and strict definition of trafficking [that is in our law].
As I have stated before, the burden of proof should never be on the mindset of victims, many of whom are not even initially aware that they are being trafficked. Police officers have told me over and over how they have met victims whom they know are being trafficked, but because the victims do not live in fear of their traffickers, the officers' options are very limited. I have met with survivors, NGOs and law enforcement across Canada, and the one issue that comes up at every meeting is that we need to be in full alignment with the Palermo protocol. This bill is critical to Canada's efforts to target and apprehend pimps and traffickers.
To emphasize the difficulty in securing convictions over existing trafficking offences, I want to share the conviction statistics from Stats Canada, which notes, “Less than half of detected incidents of human trafficking result in the laying or recommendation of charges.” For a 10-year period, between 2011 and 2021, the majority, 81%, of completed adult criminal court cases involving at least one human trafficking charge were stayed, withdrawn, dismissed or discharged. During the same time, only 12% of these cases resulted in a guilty decision. Putting it another way, only one in eight completed human trafficking cases resulted in a guilty decision.
Finally, every human trafficking case is half as likely to result in a finding of guilt as a case involving sexual offence or a violent crime. This is tragic. Canada is failing the victims of human trafficking and our law enforcement officers, who work so hard to investigate and apprehend these traffickers. This is not a new problem. Survivors and NGOs have been speaking out about this for years.
Back in 2014, a report entitled “Ending Sex-Trafficking In Canada” from the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada recommended our alignment with the Palermo protocol, and every year, the U.S. trafficking in persons report, on its file in Canada, urges Canada to amend its Criminal Code to include a definition of trafficking as exploitation as an essential element of the crime consistent with international law.
The Conservative Party of Canada has had this in our platform since 2019, and a few years ago, the Alberta government launched a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking. The implementation of that was spearheaded by my friend Paul Brandt, who chaired the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force. He has done an incredible job. The first priority of the action was to adopt the Palermo protocol definition of trafficking.
Canada needs to do much better in its fight against human trafficking, and the bill is an important start. The tragic reality of human trafficking is that it has not been a priority for this government. For example, bills such as Bill S-224 and Bill S-211 are the result of individual MPs and senators who worked hard to address the gaps experienced by survivors and stakeholders.
A lot of work has been done to support this and has been driven by the All Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery since we launched in 2018. Our goal is to ensure that Canada is free from all human trafficking and to increase awareness around that. We have four co-chairs, one from each official party, and we recognize the immense value of working across political lines to combat human trafficking. That is why, three years ago, we were able to get the House of Commons to finally recognize February 22 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
However, when we look at the legislation that the government has introduced over the past eight years regarding human trafficking, it is taking Canada in the wrong direction. Government legislation has blocked consecutive sentencing for traffickers after it has been adopted by Parliament. It reduced some of the human trafficking offences to hybrid offences, meaning that traffickers get away with as little as a fine. More recently, the Liberals have extended house arrest to some human trafficking offences. Who benefits from all of these changes? It is pimps and traffickers. I would also note that the government allowed the national action plan to combat human trafficking to expire in 2016 and refused to bring forward anything for almost four years until weeks before the 2019 election.
The Liberals' 2019 national strategy to combat human trafficking says a lot of good things, but it is just that: It says a lot of good things. Unlike the Conservative Party national action plan, the strategy has no targets and no measurables. That is why, four years after it being announced, the survivor-led advisory committee on human trafficking has still not been set up. The voices and lived experiences of victims and survivors are essential for this success. I am hoping that we can get that set up soon. Canada must have a zero-tolerance approach to human trafficking that centres on the voices of survivors.
While we often talk about sex trafficking in Canada, we know that forced labour is also very tragic and happens here in Canada. Victims of forced labour can be found in restaurants, the agricultural industry, the mining sector, live-in caregiving situations and manufacturing. Just two weeks ago, the York Regional Police announced that 64 men and women from Mexico were trafficked to work in Ontario. I want to thank the police for their hard work on these things and the officers who apprehended these traffickers and rescued these victims.
Around the world, now more than ever, there are more than 50 million people in some form of slavery, which is up from 40 million pre-COVID. It is more than the population of our country, and more than ever in human history. Worldwide, slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry that generates more than $150 billion annually. This is why I am so pleased to support the bill before us today so we can end human trafficking here and around the world.