Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).
My colleague the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul in Manitoba is a good friend of mine, someone I have worked very closely with since I became a member of Parliament and who is considered to be an expert in human trafficking. I would like to acknowledge the international award she has received for her work on this issue. I am pleased to support her, and I also want to congratulate her on her efforts.
Bill C-268 is an important bill. It seeks to impose a mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment for trafficking a person under 18 years of age.
The bill addresses the horrific crime of trafficking in persons, a deplorable act. The crime of trafficking in persons involves the recruitment, movement or harbouring of a person by means of deception, coercion or force. It is known as modern-day slavery.
It is estimated that between 700,000 and four million people are trafficked annually worldwide, through sexual exploitation or forced labour. The estimates vary widely because these crimes go unreported and the victims are often unknown.
It is also estimated that the underground market in the trafficking and smuggling of persons represents close to $7 billion U.S. per year globally, quickly rivalling the extensive trade in illegal drugs and firearms as a source of profit for organized crime.
Those involved in the adult sex trade are often among the most vulnerable members of our society. Their involvement in sex work often puts them at an increased risk for harm and abuse.
This government remains deeply committed to combating the exploitation of women and girls.
Addressing such harm requires the enforcement of existing criminal laws as well as a range of non-legislative responses, including prevention and other support initiatives.
Our government has been working diligently through its overall anti-trafficking strategy, guided by the three P's that were mentioned by my colleague earlier: preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting offenders.
Our government is committed to combating violence against women and girls. We are committed to helping the most vulnerable. As Minister of State for the Status of Women, I can confirm that our government, through Status of Women Canada, is funding grassroots organizations across the country that are working to address trafficking. We believe they are best equipped to help the most vulnerable.
One of those organizations, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, has a project called prevent human trafficking: stop the sexual exploitation of first nations women and children. This initiative will develop partnership networks as well as other measures to prevent and protect women and youth from sexual exploitation and trafficking. Aboriginal women and youth are among the most vulnerable members in our society today.
We are also proud of the work we are doing with Sisters in Spirit. This initiative is spearheaded by NWAC, the Native Women's Association of Canada. I want to take a moment to congratulate the new president Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell. I look forward to working with her. I also want to acknowledge the incredible work of Bev Jacobs, and the families and victims for the stories they have told. The program is a research project to ensure there is more public awareness of the aboriginal women we have lost. I want to commend them for their courage in their work to give the lost spirits a voice.
I mentioned briefly the grassroots organizations that we are supporting.
Our government has made some significant changes to Status of Women Canada. We have increased the funding available to grassroots organizations across the country by 41%. With that, we have seen an increase in the number of organizations that are receiving support and funds to deliver their projects to the most vulnerable women across the country. The benefits from these changes to date have impacted 100,000 women directly and one million women indirectly.
Over the past year I have been meeting with many Canadians, particularly women, from coast to coast to coast, to engage in discussions about violence against women. I have met with thousands of Canadians, and they have indicated the need to address this very serious issue of human trafficking as well as the need to ensure that women have a safe place of refuge, such as shelters.
That is why our government was proud to support the first ever World Conference of Women's Shelters. I was pleased to bring the organizations together toward establishing an international network of shelters, so that Canada can continue to lead, so that we can transfer knowledge and share best practices.
Human trafficking in women and girls occurs, we know, both domestically and internationally, and our government is tackling the issue on both fronts. I had the honour of leading the Canadian delegation to the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women to reiterate our government's commitment to end this practice, along with other gender-based crimes.
In November 2005 this government introduced reforms to Canada's Criminal Code that created three indictable offences related to human trafficking. The Criminal Code reforms were the first deliverables through this government's anti-trafficking strategy. As a result, Canada's Criminal Code is strengthened and now includes three human trafficking-related offences: one, the actual act of trafficking; two, receiving material benefit from trafficking; and three, the withholding or destroying of identity or immigration documents. There is also a trafficking offence under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which was introduced by our government.
In helping to increase the application of new legislative tools, training on the laws and issues surrounding human trafficking is currently being delivered to law enforcement, border and immigration officials across Canada. This program includes a strong focus on victims' issues. Federal efforts are coordinated by the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons, which brings together 17 departments and agencies, including my agency, Status of Women Canada. The RCMP and federal partners, including my agency, have held training workshops across Canada for law enforcement officials on human trafficking.
In 2007 this government introduced legislation that allows Citizenship and Immigration Canada officers to issue temporary resident permits of up to 180 days to victims of human trafficking. Recipients are also eligible to apply for a fee-exempt work permit.
The parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women, which I have had the pleasure of sitting on and participating in since I became an elected member, has tabled two motions calling on the government to prevent trafficking at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Federal, provincial and municipal officials are collaborating on a strategy. We have also engaged in initiatives to combat trafficking in persons, including national law enforcement training and providing funding to groups with survivors and victims as their focus.
Our government also focuses on raising awareness, which is a key element in curbing demand for trafficked persons. These awareness-raising measures include the creation of a website on trafficking in persons. It is accessed through the Department of Justice website. Posters and information pamphlets are available in 14 different languages, which have been developed and distributed widely within Canada and throughout Canadian embassies abroad to help prevent human trafficking.
Federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the status of women have also agreed to identify best practices to respond to this crime.
Our government has a strong record on supporting women, particularly those who are victims of criminal activity, and Bill C-268 further demonstrates this commitment.
Clearly, if hon. members of the House embrace the values of justice, human rights and compassion, they should and will support this legislation, particularly if they care about the situation of women and children in Canada and around the world who are subjected to the crime of trafficking.
I look forward to this bill receiving support from the opposition in the House. I will close by congratulating my colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, on the incredible work she has done and for her leadership on this issue.