Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on private member's Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for this initiative, which seeks to deter people from committing these crimes and to ensure that those who profit from them are punished accordingly. I believe that we all agree that these objectives deserve our support. In fact, thanks to the hard work of the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul, there is now a minimum sentence in the Criminal Code for those found guilty of trafficking in persons under the age of 18, an initiative that was supported by all opposition parties except the Bloc. It is a shame for this party and a sad day for Quebec's children.
Although we support the good intentions of the bill, I believe that, in its current form, it could prevent the desired objectives from being attained. I will spend my time pointing out some of the problems with the bill, but I will do so in a constructive manner and in the hope of making it as sound and effective as possible. In my opinion, changes need to be made to fill in the gaps in current criminal law and provide sufficient legal clarification so that such changes are useful to police and prosecutors. In the end, it would allow the member to attain her objectives of deterring and punishing this crime.
Human trafficking is a problem that comes up often. It garners a lot of attention from the public, media, police and legislators across the country and around the world. I believe that this interest stems from the fundamental human concern we have for one another and from the fact that we all recognize that no one should be treated as merchandise that can be bought and sold for profit. It is a form of modern slavery. Despite the attention that this crime garners, we are only just starting to comprehend the nature and scope of this crime in Canada and abroad. We do know, however, that women and children are disproportionately victimized by this crime.
According to the United Nations, in 2009, 66% and 13% of the victims were women and girls, respectively, compared with 12% for men and 9% for boys. The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people are victims of human trafficking every year. And this crime is clearly very profitable. The United Nations estimates that this crime nets nearly $32 billion each year for the offenders.
Police investigations and prosecutions in Canada provide us with useful, albeit incomplete, information about human trafficking. These cases have demonstrated that the majority of victims were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. But there are also cases of trafficking for forced labour. Most of the victims were women and the majority of these human trafficking cases took place here in Canada.
In December 2010, RCMP statistics showed that there were at least 36 cases involving human trafficking before our courts. That is an encouraging number because it shows that the criminal justice system is becoming more comfortable with the relatively new offences involving human trafficking.
In light of this, we must ensure that we do not inadvertently make our laws less effective. I am concerned that certain proposals that have been put forth could do just that. And in that context, I would like to speak to the content of this bill.
First, it would grant the extraterritorial power to bring legal action in Canada against Canadians or permanent residents who commit offences related to adult trafficking abroad. This seems logical to me and I know that extending jurisdiction in this matter is encouraged under the relevant international law. In fact, other countries have taken measures in this regard, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
I believe—and I am asking members to think about this—that this type of amendment should have been extended to offences involving the trafficking of children, which fall under section 279.011 of the Criminal Code. This offence was enacted last year further to private member's Bill C-268, which was introduced and sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul. The addition of a human trafficking offence involving both adults and children would allow us to ensure that Canadian laws and, of course, this bill, are consistent, as well as to take legal action no matter what the age of the victim.
I also support the bill's proposal to the effect that human trafficking offences should result in the reversal of the onus of proof in cases related to proceeds of crime. The existing regime limits this possibility to serious offences involving organized crime and other serious drug offences that are directly related to organized crime. We know that members of organized crime groups also participate in human trafficking. This amendment would target financial incentives and make this type of crime less appealing to criminal organizations.
This bill also proposes a “presumption” that appears to be an attempt to make prosecution easier. In cases involving adults, this presumption would require the court to find that the accused is exploiting a victim if he lives with a person who is exploited or is habitually in the company of or harbours a person who is exploited.
Presumptions help prosecutors prove an element of the offence by establishing a fact. However, as it is written, I do not think that the presumption achieves its goal. That said, I think that the goal could be achieved if the proposal could be amended to ensure that it produces the desired results and that it is compatible with the existing presumptions in the Criminal Code. I urge hon. members to think about the need to make such amendments to the bill.
Furthermore, I am concerned about a number of amendments this bill proposes to section 212 of the Criminal Code, which is commonly known as the procuring provision. Two amendments are proposed. The first would require that individuals found guilty of this offence must serve their sentences consecutively to any other punishment they have received. The second would apply reverse onus to this offence in cases related to the proceeds of crime.
As the House surely knows, our government is currently defending the constitutional validity of certain provisions regarding prostitution. Therefore, I think it would be ill-advised to make more amendments to these provisions before a ruling is made.
I would like to tell the member that I am absolutely willing to work with her to strengthen this bill in order to hold traffickers responsible for their horrendous crimes.
However, I am outraged that the Bloc has introduced this bill, since it knows that it wants to defeat the government. This is a case of opportunism. That party is trying to pretend that it defends victims, when all it does is defend the rights of criminals.