Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for the invitation for us to come here and speak today. If it's okay, I will do my opening remarks both in English and French.
As mentioned, I'm the director of the RCMP's immigration and passport branch at the national headquarters in Ottawa, responsible for the programs of human trafficking and human smuggling. I'm joined today by my colleague, Sergeant Marie-Claude Arsenault of the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today about human trafficking in Canada and to share with you the considerable efforts of law enforcement in combating this criminal activity.
I would first like to clarify the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. Human smuggling involves the illegal movement of persons across international borders in exchange for a sum of money. Although the journey may involve dangerous conditions, smuggled persons are usually free to go upon arrival at their destination. When the final destination is reached, the business relationship ends.
Human trafficking involves the transport, recruitment, or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, generally for the sex industry or forced labour.
Traffickers use various methods to maintain control over their victims, including force, sexual assault, intimidation, threats of violence, physical and/or emotional abuse. As the committee heard from previous witnesses, human trafficking is defined in both the Criminal Code (section 279) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (section 118).
It is clandestine in nature, often with fear being inflicted on victims which, in turn, can make their identification difficult.
Human trafficking occurs both across international borders, known as international human trafficking, and within national boundaries, which is referred to as domestic human trafficking.
Human trafficking is all about making money by selling human beings into the sex trade or forced labour. It can involve organized crime, but it may also be conducted by individuals alone. Recent intelligence reports suggest that street gangs are getting more involved in human trafficking for the purposes of recruiting into prostitution-related activities.
Mr. Chairman, the RCMP is committed to combatting human trafficking, both at home and abroad. In 2005 the RCMP established a Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, referred to as the HTNCC, which operates on behalf of not only the RCMP but all of law enforcement in Canada. The centre develops tools, coordinates national awareness training and anti-trafficking initiatives, develops partnerships, and coordinates intelligence for dissemination amongst law enforcement in Canada.
The RCMP works with municipal, provincial, federal and international partners, government agencies and NGOs to uncover and target human trafficking activities.
Law enforcement strives to identify and rescue victims while investigating suspected traffickers and the criminal organizations that lie behind these activities.
In order to raise awareness of this issue among law enforcement in Canada, NGOs, and the public, in collaboration with its partners, the RCMP has developed a human trafficking awareness video and information package to help identify potential victims as well as their trafficker. The video was included in a human trafficking awareness toolkit that has been distributed nationally to all law enforcement and all RCMP detachments across Canada, as well as to various NGOs, in the fight against human trafficking. The toolkit also contains victim assistance guidelines, posters, a police officer's handbook, pamphlet, and contact card.
A recent human trafficking awareness initiative was the development of a partnership between the RCMP, Crime Stoppers, and Public Safety to provide a platform to encourage the unanimous reporting of suspicious activities that could be linked to human trafficking. The RCMP has provided awareness sessions to Crime Stoppers personnel and is assisting with the development of a protocol for call-takers. Our hope is that the widely recognized Crime Stoppers tip line and the ability to anonymously report suspected cases of human trafficking will encourage the public to call if they have information regarding this activity.
As well, the RCMP has regional human trafficking awareness coordinators in each of its regional investigative teams. The key responsibilities of these coordinators include raising awareness among and developing strong relationships with law enforcement agencies, government agencies, NGOs, and the public, in all provinces and territories. These established networks are critical for police and NGOs to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.
Members of the Human Trafficking National Coordination Center and these coordinators have traveled extensively across Canada and internationally to raise awareness on human trafficking issues.
Human trafficking can pose many challenges for investigators. Victims of human trafficking generally do not self-identify to law enforcement for various reasons, including fear of repercussions, intimidation, mistrust of authority figures, shame, or they simply may not see themselves as victims. In international cases, these challenges are amplified by cultural and language barriers.
There remains a need to provide more clarity to law enforcement and prosecutors about this topic so that they can recognize both international and domestic human trafficking and when prostitution may, in fact, be human trafficking.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight regarding some RCMP statistics that have been possibly misinterpreted repeatedly. A strategic intelligence assessment was done by the RCMP in 2004, entitled Project Surrender. This report did not result in any substantive Canadian human trafficking statistics. Instead, it provided potential estimates of international human trafficking victims in Canada based on a review of investigations involving other sections of the Criminal Code—for example, kidnapping, prostitution, extortion, human smuggling, and/or the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These estimates, therefore, simply confirm that there were investigations in Canada that may or may not have had a human trafficking connection.
Since 2007, and reported to the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre, there have been five cases involving five accused where human trafficking convictions have been secured. In these cases, four victims were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. The accused were charged with human trafficking and prostitution-related offences, and they received sentences for human trafficking varying between two and seven years. All of the under-age victims were involved in domestic human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
It is significant to note that there are 17 more human trafficking cases already before the courts here in Canada that we have been made aware of. In keeping with the cycle of events when new legislation is adopted, it would appear that momentum is building around awareness, resulting in more charges being laid.
Even with the new legislation, it remains very difficult for us to determine the number of human trafficking victims due to the surreptitious nature of this crime. The RCMP is currently conducting a threat assessment to determine the degree of international human trafficking in Canada. The goal of this threat assessment is to identify criminal organizations involved in human trafficking through intelligence-gathering as opposed to quantifying the number of victims. This will provide law enforcement with a guide to further direct its resources on this issue.
Law enforcement strives to ensure the safety of all Canadians, working within the boundaries of the Canadian legal system. Human traffickers clearly violate the most basic human rights of their victims, and this is an offence that is not tolerated.
Looking forward, the RCMP will focus its activities on the following: continued awareness for all law enforcement, NGOs, and the public; the development of intelligence, at both the domestic and international levels, to better understand the breadth of the problem; the development of investigative tools to support law enforcement engaged in these investigations; and encouragement of partnerships between agencies to promote the most strategic and effective approach to address these issues.
Those, Mr. Chairman, are our opening lines. We welcome the opportunity to answer your questions.
I will do my best to answer your question, Mr. Ménard.
It is very difficult to establish the exact number of victims. Are there 2,000? Are there more? Are there fewer? It is hard for us to know with any certainty because this is a hidden crime. It is a crime whose victims do not talk. There are several reasons, including fear.
In a number of cases, people do not necessarily recognize that they are victims. Investigators have difficulty getting people to cooperate with authorities. In some cases, especially those involving people from other countries, cultural questions come into play. For various reasons, victims mistrust the police. They do not have as much trust in Canadian police as we would like. It is very difficult for us, and I cannot tell you why that is.
As for the number of charges, in my opinion, we need awareness campaigns for the police. We have been doing that: more than 16,000 police officers and government officials have gone through awareness training in recent years. Of course, the people providing the training tell us that the police are not very familiar with the offence. They have to be educated so that, when they are conducting investigations, they know how to look below the surface. The surface is prostitution; we have look at what is going on behind that.
Are they human trafficking victims or not? Is an organization behind the trafficking? We have work to do on this. But there has been some movement in recent years. At present, 17 cases are before the courts, which is an increase from the five cases before the courts in the first years.
Good afternoon, Mr. Aubin and Ms. Arsenault.
My comments are mainly for you, Mr. Aubin. Thank you for agreeing to testify. This is a problem that affects Quebec, Canada and the rest of the world equally.
In Quebec and in Canada, what we call human trafficking can involve young children. It is a growing phenomenon and I am moved by it. It has become a very lucrative crime for street gangs and even for organized crime. The more they spread, the more hidden the crime gets and the more children under 18 years of age are used. Underage boys and girls are used exclusively for sexual purposes. This is the clearest and most frightening aspect of the problem these days.
I do not know if you are familiar with the Nakpamgi case, the first child trafficker convicted in Canada. There was at least one case in Quebec; it involved Michael Lennox Mark. In all these cases, the lives of young boys and girls have been destroyed.
Naturally, concerns have been expressed. People in my constituency have told me that they support Bill. We went to British Columbia to see how things were being handled. That is when they told us about organized crime and human trafficking. A number of people have written to me to say that there can be no question of opening brothels during the Olympic Games. They want to know what we are going to do. This is a serious problem at the moment.
I am going to quote a part of a letter from Professor Benjamin Perron from British Columbia:
|| ...it is my considered opinion as a criminal law professor that Bill C-268 is fully compliant with relevant constitutional standards.
|| Your decision to support Bill C-268 will be a tremendous demonstration of commitment to hold perpetrators of child trafficking accountable for their horrific crimes.
I have seen your films and I have attended your lectures. I know you and I know a little about the world you work in. As a representative of the RCMP, what are the issues in human trafficking in Canada and elsewhere? Have you anything to say about Bill ? In a few words, how can we fight this crime?
I will do my best, Mr. Petit.
In my experience with organized crime and in my recent experience, I can say that it is not an insignificant problem. The problem does not just exist in Canada; it is widespread in Europe, where police and governments are putting a lot of time into it.
Many people from southeast Europe are trafficked for sexual exploitation in Europe. The cases before the courts in Canada show the extent of the problem.
After having led undercover operations inside criminal organizations for six years, I can tell you for sure that a number of women are involved in prostitution or exotic dancing clubs. They are not there of their own free will, they are there because they are being controlled. This is a fact. But I would find it difficult to tell you how many.
As for street gangs, police forces in Toronto, Vancouver and especially Montreal are aware that a number of individuals are involved in controlling girls who are held so that they can be put into prostitution. If they are not actual street gang members, they are directly linked.
This is a crime that is controlled to a greater and greater extent by street gangs. We need more research. We are also seeing what we call a shifting of responsibilities between criminal organizations. There is a kind of stratification going on between organizations, but street gangs are more and more involved. They are recruiting for this activity and running it.
I cannot tell you if the activity is growing fast in Canada, but I know that it is a problem all over the world, and one that we are seriously coming to grips with.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to address the committee.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national trade association representing Canada's home, car, and business insurers.
My name is Rick Dubin, and as vice-president of investigations, I lead and coordinate our industry's fight against auto theft. With me today is Dennis Prouse, director of government relations.
For a number of years, our industry has seen the costs associated with auto theft rise. Our investigative team, in turn, has seen sharply increased implications of organized criminal activity in auto theft. Simply put, the days of the joyride have been replaced with sophisticated criminal rings bent on stealing automobiles, because the current penalties associated with this theft are so lenient and the profits are so attractive. These criminals steal vehicles and chop them up to sell parts. They switch the vehicle identification number to change the identity of the stolen vehicle, which is then sold to an unsuspecting consumer. And they export thousands of high-end vehicles through Canadian ports each year to overseas destinations where they can fetch a much higher price than here at home.
In 2007, almost 150,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada--exactly 146,142, to be precise. That cost auto insurance policyholders approximately $542 million. In that year, every policyholder in Canada paid an average of about $35 of their auto insurance premiums to finance costs incurred by the acts of car thieves.
When we include police, the health care system, and court costs, the cost of auto theft climbs to well over $1 billion each year. Many of these resources are spent precisely because car thieves repeatedly come in and out of the justice system. Under the current Criminal Code provisions, jail time is rarely handed out, and auto theft is viewed as a largely victimless transgression.
Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you that auto theft is far from a victimless crime. A few years ago we witnessed the deaths of two teenagers in a taxi, struck by a stolen vehicle in Ontario. Detective Constable Plunkett, a York Regional Police officer, was killed trying to stop the theft of an airbag. And in 2004 in Nova Scotia, it was the death of Theresa McEvoy at the hands of a repeat auto theft offender that prompted citizen outrage and a call for action.
With the involvement of organized crime so pervasive in the business of auto theft, with profits so lucrative, you will perhaps not be surprised to hear that Canadian and American intelligence authorities suspect that auto theft is a possible means by which terrorist groups may be financing themselves. Canada is an attractive place in that regard.
Recovery rates of stolen vehicles continue to decline. A few short years ago the national recovery rate was 70%. In 2007 that rate dipped to 64%. Montreal has the highest volume of stolen vehicles in Canada, as well as the lowest recovery rate of 31%.
Just recently, in May 2009, two men were criminally charged as part of an alleged auto theft ring operating in Norfolk, Haldimand, and Brant counties in Ontario. According to the Ontario Provincial Police, the operation involved the altering of vehicle identification numbers and the exporting of stolen vehicles.
So you can understand why more and more citizens and governments in this country are asking for action to deal with auto theft. You can understand more fully why we are here.
Fortunately, Bill C-26 addresses the auto theft reoffender involved in organized crime who engages in this dangerous activity purely for profit. It recognizes auto theft as a separate and serious offence under the Criminal Code. And while it proposes mandatory minimum sentences, it only does so for the third and subsequent offences. This is a very reasonable step to deal with the reality of repeat offenders.
Mr. Chairman, Canadians have the right to feel safe in their own communities. The growth of auto theft, however, and its increasingly violent nature, is compromising our safety. The growing presence of organized crime in auto theft is an even more troubling development that further threatens the safety and security of Canadians. On behalf of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, our members' companies, and the policyholders they serve, I urge you to vote in favour of Bill C-26 in its current form.
Canadians count on their parliamentarians to stay on top of changes in our world that impact on our lives. When money laundering by organized crime became a problem, Parliament acted. When issues surrounding privacy and identity theft became a concern for Canadians, Parliament acted. Now that the nature of auto theft has changed with the increased involvement of organized crime, now that it is threatening the safety and security of Canadians, parliamentarians are again taking action in the form of Bill C-26.
Thank you for your time, and we look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you very much. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today via teleconference. I have to admit that, unfortunately, my ability to prepare for today's session is a little limited, but I'd be more than happy to answer any questions or to correspond, not only today but at a future date.
In terms of the Winnipeg perspective, I think I want to highlight how the situation here is definitely not without significant impact in terms of victimization. By way of background, I can indicate to you that we've had in 2007 and 2008 an individual who was seriously injured as a result of a deliberate attempt by auto thieves to run down joggers in a well-known jogging location. As well, we've had three other traffic fatalities where auto thieves were deliberately operating large vehicles in a menacing manner. There was no police chase. It was simply a smash-up derby on our streets, and three people lost their lives as a result.
I can also indicate to you that in the past three years we've had numerous occasions where officers have been deliberately rammed or attempted to be struck while on foot. These officers were attempting to intervene in stolen vehicle events. In Winnipeg, this is a definitive safety issue, not only for our officers but for public safety overall.
In terms of what's happened as far as combatting auto theft in Winnipeg, there are some particular frustrations that I think this legislation may certainly address. Auto theft is looked at primarily as a property crime, as I'm sure you're aware, equivalent to stealing a similar value of other goods. The difficulty with that, of course, is that with the emphasis on discouraging violent crime, property crime has sort of taken a back seat in that area. In Winnipeg, we found a very egregious example. One particular offender, who, between stealing cars, was being released on bail and in breaching those bail conditions, was arrested no less than 40 times before being incarcerated for auto theft-related offences or offences related to release on bail.
A study was done by our auto theft unit. Fifty of the top auto thieves in Winnipeg were identified and then were tracked with respect to their release conditions or their release status and the number of auto thefts in Winnipeg. I can tell you that when more than 40% of those top 50 offenders were on the streets, auto thefts rose by at least 20% or more. In terms of costs alone, with respect to damage to those vehicles—this is not the cost of medical treatment for those who are injured or the cost of investigation, it is simply the cost of recovery for the damage of those automobiles--in one year it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5.5 million.
The difficulty for us was, is, and still remains to this day, because of the consideration of auto theft as a property crime, keeping these top-level offenders incarcerated. As soon as they're out on the streets, that's when auto thefts again begin to rise.
An additional difficulty, of course, is that in many cases auto thieves are merely providing a vehicle for others to commit other crimes. Stolen autos are used in a variety of different offences, such as robberies and other gang retaliation types of occurrences here in Winnipeg. It's very dangerous not only for the public, but for our officers. Winnipeg, I believe, tends to be, perhaps, at the point of a spear here. What we notice now is that our offenders are certainly not immune from providing others the instruction to carry out auto thefts in other jurisdictions.
We feel that given the fact that a very heavy vehicle can be operated at very high speeds, it's not unlike the potential danger of a firearm. What we are asking parliamentarians, and you specifically, to consider is providing significant deterrents so that we can essentially—once we have established individuals as chronic auto thieves—keep them in custody so we can keep these types of crimes and threats to our streets at a minimum.
The difficulty is that in the current atmosphere it becomes almost a revolving door type of scenario. It's frustrating to our officers. It's very intensive to monitor these thieves.
We are asking you to support the proposed legislation to ensure there is significant deterrence and significant custody attached to stealing what is tantamount to a weapon if operated in a menacing fashion.
Thank you very much. I am more than willing to entertain questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present to the committee regarding Bill C-26.
Statistics Canada does not take a position on the proposed amendments. The presentation we have prepared today contains data on motor vehicle thefts that may inform your discussions of the bill. All data sources used are clearly indicated on the slides, as are any pertinent notes. You should have the presentation in front of you to follow. We've also included supplemental information at the end of the deck for the consideration of the committee, and we have distributed to you a copy of our recent Juristat article on motor vehicle theft.
My colleague, Ms. Mia Dauvergne, is here to help answer any questions.
The first several slides provide information on the incidence of police-reported motor vehicle thefts in Canada over time, by province and territory, and by census metropolitan area.
Police-reported motor vehicle thefts are incidents in which a land-based motorized vehicle is taken or attempted to be taken without the owner's authorization. Included are completed thefts and incidents where there was an unsuccessful intent to steal a vehicle, what we call “attempted” thefts.
The graph in this slide shows that Canada's rate of motor vehicle theft peaked in 1996 and has generally been declining since. However, the rate of motor vehicle theft in 2007 was well above the level seen decades earlier. Motor vehicle theft is the fifth most common type of police-reported crime in Canada. In 2007 motor vehicle thefts accounted for 6% of all Criminal Code offences and 13% of all property crimes. In 2007 police reported about 146,000 motor vehicle thefts, averaging about 400 stolen vehicles per day, including both completed and attempted incidents. In addition, there were about 2,500 motor vehicles stolen during the commission of another, more serious offence.
The proportion of incidents classified as “attempted” is higher for motor vehicle thefts than for other Criminal Code offences. In 2007 14% of all motor vehicle thefts were classified by police as attempted, versus 2% for other Criminal Code offences. A little over half of all motor vehicle thefts in 2007 involved cars. Another one-third were trucks, vans, or SUVs. About 4% were motorcycles, and 8% were other types of vehicles.
The next slide shows that the highest rates of motor vehicle theft tend to be in the western provinces and northern Canada. In 2007 Quebec was the only eastern or central province above the national average, and although its rate has declined recently, in 2007 Manitoba had the highest reported motor vehicle theft rate in the country for the eleventh straight year. It's rate was 24% higher than a decade ago.
The next slide shows that in 2007 the highest rates of motor vehicle theft were in western census metropolitan areas: Winnipeg, Abbotsford, Edmonton, and Regina. Winnipeg's rate has been among the highest in Canada for the past 15 years, and it accounts for about 86% of Manitoba's motor vehicle thefts. Montreal reported the highest rate of motor vehicle theft in eastern and central Canada.
Motor vehicle theft is one of the least likely crimes to be solved by police. Of all vehicle thefts in 2007, 11% resulted in an accused person being identified, compared to 22% of all other property-related offences. In 2007 about 16,000 people were accused of motor vehicle theft in Canada.
The next slide shows that, like other property-related offences, motor vehicle theft is a crime often associated with youth. In 2007 police reported motor vehicle theft rates were highest among 15- to 18-year-olds, and youth aged 12 to 17 accounted for three in 10 persons accused of motor vehicle theft in 2007. This is similar to the proportion of youth accused of other property-related offences. In 2007 charges were laid or recommended by police against 59% of youth and 55% of adults accused of motor vehicle theft. This compares to charge rates of 37% for youth and 59% for adults for other property-related offences. Also, about 84% of persons accused of motor vehicle theft in 2007 were male. This compared to 74% of males accused of other property-related offences.
The next slide looks at police-reported motor vehicle theft and organized crime. We do not yet have a reliable, direct way of measuring organized crime involvement, but vehicle recovery status has been used as a proxy measure. In 2007 about four in ten stolen vehicles were not recovered by police, suggesting that these may have been related to organized crime. Vehicle recovery rates were lowest in the province of Quebec and among the highest in Winnipeg.
In the next slide, we turn to the question of court outcomes for charges of motor vehicle theft. It's not possible to identify motor vehicle theft using court administrative records alone. Motor vehicle thefts are currently recorded together with other thefts under section 334 of the Criminal Code. Court records with criminal court outcomes must be linked to police records with offence characteristics in order for us to identify this subset of theft in Canada.
The question of whether or not motor vehicle theft is treated differently from thefts in general by the courts is often asked. We recently linked these administrative files to answer this question for another project.
An unrepresentative sample of court records did show differences in the way in which theft in general and motor vehicle theft were treated by the courts. For example, incarceration was used more frequently for guilty charges of motor vehicle theft, and there were significant differences in the length of custody imposed by the courts for motor vehicle theft compared to other theft. Average sentences were longer for guilty charges of motor vehicle theft for $5,000 or under than for other theft $5,000 or under, and shorter for guilty charges of motor vehicle theft over $5,000 than for all other theft over $5,000.
There are more details on this issue in the supplementary slide at the end of your deck.
The Criminal Code under section 335 describes taking a motor vehicle without consent as an offence “resembling theft”. As seen in the next slide, several thousand of these theft-like charges are heard in Canadian criminal courts each year. The number of these charges heard against youth has been declining since the period introducing the Youth Criminal Justice Act, while the number of these charges heard against adults has been generally increasing over the last decade.
The proportion of charges found guilty for adults and youth tends to be higher for this charge than for charges generally, but is almost identical to the proportion found guilty for theft in general.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, motor vehicle theft continues to be a high-volume offence in Canada, but Canada's police-reported motor vehicle theft rate has been declining since 1996. Motor vehicle theft rates are particularly high in the west, and vehicle recovery rates can serve as a proxy for organized crime involvement. We've seen that recovery rates vary across the country. Stolen vehicles are less often recovered in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada, while in Winnipeg the recovery rate was among the highest.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That ends my presentation. There is supplemental information for the committee at the end of the deck.
I think they are already. There have been examples here where chop shops, essentially, have been set up and the thefts have been much more organized. It's not just your commonplace “break the ignition column”; they're much more intelligently planned.
We're very vulnerable to that here in Winnipeg, as in any scenario where there's organized crime and crime for profit. As well, we have a fairly significant base of offenders who are very willing to steal vehicles and would certainly be a tool to be utilized by organized crime.
Our experience thus far with respect to immobilizers has been that they have made a difference, but I would say to the committee that the investigators in our auto theft strategy unit have found that it's the old adage: 5% of the people are doing 95% of the crime. We did track that, and what we found is that when a great number of our top auto thieves were on the street, auto theft skyrocketed, despite the presence of immobilizers; they just found other targets to go to. When more of them were incarcerated, the rates came back down.
If you talk to any auto theft investigator, they would attribute it to the very, very intense monitoring of those offenders. The difficulty, of course, is that right now they may be doing it for their own purposes, but certainly they would be a willing tool in the hands of, say, more sophisticated types of criminals, who would certainly be engaged in the crime-for-profit aspect. We would be particularly vulnerable here.
We have that dubious distinction. We've also had the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of Canada as well. We are definitely in the trenches and at the point of the spear. We have some very unique insight in that way. I wish we didn't, but we do. I would say, certainly from our perspective, there has to come a point where we need to make sure there's a significant deterrent, or if not a deterrent, then at least incarcerate those offenders so that we do have a chance to catch our breath.