Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Murray Rankin. I am the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I welcome our witnesses, both virtual and real, to this hearing.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Thursday, June 8, 2017, the committee is resuming its study on human trafficking in Canada.
I'd like to introduce the witnesses. First I'd like to introduce Professor Janine Benedet, a Professor of Law at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.
Also present here in Ottawa is Mélanie Carpentier.
She's the Director of Victim Services at La Maison de Mélanie.
Also joining us, from the virtual world, if I can call it that, is the Honourable Nancy Morrison, Former Judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Thank you so much for being with us.
Last but not least, we have Barbara Gosse, the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking.
Thank you so much for being with us as well.
As is our practice, I'd like to start with our virtual witnesses in case there's a difficulty. If that's okay, Honourable Nancy Morrison, I invite you to begin, and thank you in advance.
Thank you to the members of the standing committee for the opportunity to speak.
My name is Nancy Morrison. I've asked the clerk to put before you a statement that was made on July 10, 2014, by Brian McConaghy, a former RCMP forensic specialist. For the last 25 years he's been the head of an international charity that assists Cambodian youth to recover from sex trade abuses. I hope you will read his whole submission.
I'm quoting one portion only. McConaghy stated:
I judge human trafficking and prostitution as inseparable and simply different elements of the same criminal activity [that] exploits vulnerable women and youth. The separation of these elements I view [as] largely academic.
That is also my view. Human sex trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world. In 2012, profits from human sex trafficking were estimated at $58 billion per year. Two years later, in 2014, according to a joint statement of the Inter-agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, human trafficking is so lucrative that it was now estimated by the International Labour Office at $99 billion U.S. per year.
Following the 2013 Bedford decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, Parliament passed the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which received royal assent in November 2014. For the first time in Canadian history, prostitution involving consenting adults became illegal. The act has criminalized the purchase of sexual services, making it an offence for an individual to buy sex in Canada. It criminalizes the pimps and the purchasers, not the sellers. The act gives immunity to those who sell sex, offering instead to help them exit the sex trade.
This is modelled after the Nordic model, with one unfortunate exception. One section of the act makes it illegal to solicit to sell sex in a public place, or any places open to public view that are next to a school ground, playground, or day care centre. In my view, Parliament should remove that section so that no individual who sells sex will be criminalized.
Human sex trafficking has no borders. Girls are trafficked from Asia, Africa, Europe, and certainly within our own countries. What can we learn from other countries?
Sweden, in 1999, passed the Sex Purchase Act, which criminalizes pimps and the customers who buy sex. Prostitutes are subject to no criminalization and are given assistance to leave the sex trade. The law's aims are gender equality, the safety of women and youth from violence, curbing human trafficking as well as prostitution, and changing their culture so that prostitution is no longer accepted as appropriate. It is violence against women and children, and contrary to gender equality.
Prostitution still exists in Sweden, but the culture is changing. Organized crime involved in the trade has been disrupted, and sex trafficking from foreign jurisdictions has decreased, along with the incidence of prostitution.
A 2015 government report reveals street prostitution had been cut in half, and an estimate of the number of prostitutes indicates that their number has decreased from 3,000 to 600. Sweden helps people to exit the sex trade, providing safety and housing, education, counselling, treatment for addictions, and financial assistance.
The Netherlands decriminalized prostitution in 2000. The result was a huge increase in the number of prostitutes in the Netherlands. Drug use, prostitution, organized crime, and human sex trafficking continued to rise. Amsterdam has become a destination for sex tourism.
Denmark also decriminalized prostitution in 1999. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of prostitutes increased by 40% in Denmark. Many of the trafficked young women there are from Romania and Nigeria.
New Zealand is often pointed to as a place where legal prostitution works well. You be the judge. On May 1 of this year there was an article in The Guardian reporting that New Zealand's immigration service has added sex work to the list of employment skills for those wishing to migrate. On the immigration website in New Zealand, this appears as skilled employment, but not on the skills-shortage list. New Zealand decriminalized the sex trade in 2003, with the stated goal of reducing violence, regular inspection of brothels, and no increase in the sex trade. The Guardian reports that the opposite has occurred.
Germany also decriminalized prostitution in 1999. There the sex trade mushroomed. By 2013, sex trafficking had seen an explosive increase. Many of the trafficked victims are from Romania, Bulgaria, and other former satellite countries. In May 2013, one German ad promoting a brothel read, “Sex with all women as long as you want, as often as you want, and the way you want. Sex. Anal sex. Oral sex without a condom.” The police reported that the first weekend after the ad appeared, there were 1,700 customers at the brothel. Included on the menu of another German brothel was “sex with a pregnant woman”.
Brothels are illegal in Canada under the 2014 amendments. In the Bedford case, an affidavit from a senior Toronto police officer urged the court not to legalize brothels. Brothels are among the few places where police can investigate and find not only sex trafficking, but underage prostitutes, refugees and immigrants who have been preyed upon, and foster children. In Canada, the greatest gift we could give to sex traffickers, here and internationally, would be to legalize prostitution, offering up Canada's most vulnerable girls, including many from first nation communities.
Misha Glenny, an expert in worldwide organized crime, who wrote McMafia, writes that trafficked women are the ideal entry-level commodity for criminals. He compares two commodities: a young girl and a car. A stolen car might net a one-time payment of $10,000 or $20,000 to the criminal, whereas a trafficked young woman generates income night after night, week after week, year after year, making $5,000 to $10,000 per month, and often more. We have cases in Canada in which drug traffickers have switched to trafficking in sex workers. There's much less danger in transporting the goods or commodities, as Glenny refers to them. There's much less danger in being caught, a lot more money, and it's easier to obtain young girls. There's a low risk of detection, and a much, much lower penalty if caught.
Regina v. Moazami was a human trafficking case in 2014 in Vancouver. There the accused had switched from trafficking in drugs to running his own stable of young girls. Eleven of those young women testified against him in court. Ten of the 11 testified that they began in the sex trade at the ages of 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17. Three of them were foster children, one was an immigrant from Afghanistan, and one was taken to Calgary for the Stampede. All were induced and kept in the trade with drugs, violence, and threats.
The diamonds of the sex trade are the children. Almost without exception, every woman that I acted for as defence counsel in prostitution cases, and there were many, had begun at a very young age. Almost all came from grim backgrounds of sexual and/or physical abuse. Children are in great demand in this industry. Trafficking children for sex is an open secret. They are much more valuable than the adults, and men are willing to pay extra for them. These young teens are hidden away in Airbnbs and luxury apartments, groomed and sold for sex in secret. When women in the sex trade are interviewed, few are asked, “At what age did you begin as a prostitute?”
To view prostitution as two equal parties striking a mutually beneficial agreement is nonsense. In the sex trade, the buyer has the power, and the young woman—the merchandise—has none. Particularly if she entered the sex trade as a child or a young teen, the notion of her consenting is ludicrous.
If we don't enforce the existing prostitution law by charging the customers and by trying to bring down the incidence of sex trafficking and prostitution, it should be no surprise that there is little discovery and enforcement of human sex trafficking. Most of us don't want to talk about prostitution. We need that enforcement, and at the same time we need to amend the existing offending section in the current legislation. We also need to provide adequate funded services for women and youth who are currently in the sex trade, and all encouragement and financial assistance to those who want to exit the trade. I've listed the services on the last page of my brief.
Sweden has shown the way by rejecting the culture that women and children, girls and boys, are commodities to be bought and sold. They have chosen a culture of gender equality, a culture that is against violence against women and children.
So should we.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am very honoured to to present to you today and to be here with the esteemed witnesses.
I have presented a brief, which is before you. I will make sure I stick to my timeline, so there will be only certain paragraphs I will pull from it.
I would like to focus on three main areas. First is the need for a national data collection mechanism. Second is the need for an integrated and coordinated national action plan. Third is the need to address the fact that corporate ownership secrecy is fuelling human trafficking in this country.
First, on the need for a national data collection mechanism, in Canada no national data collection mechanism currently exists to capture comparable statistics on human trafficking, and individual police services are not required to report incidents to a centralized agency. The federal RCMP has consistently identified that the available statistics severely under-report incidents of human trafficking.
The Canadian Centre to End Human trafficking is working to change this by designing and implementing the national human trafficking hotline. The Canadian hotline and its resulting data is a critical part of a necessary systems-based approach that would fundamentally disrupt and diminish human trafficking in Canada.
The hotline tool will provide data from victims and members of the public who report incidents. It will function as a critical component in a system that must include data collection across entities that are coordinated in their commitment to end human trafficking through legislative revitalization and coordination across federal entities and departments, federal-provincial-municipal enforcement and prosecution cooperation, as well as resource allocation targeting human trafficking network disruption.
The data generated will allow an understanding of diverse human trafficking typologies operating in Canada and thus will inform awareness and prevention campaigns, training of officials and service providers, corporate partnerships, gap areas, and law enforcement investigations. Sharing this cutting-edge intelligence will assist critical efforts to end human trafficking and assist victims and survivors.
Second, Canada needs an integrated and coordinated national action plan to comprehensively address instances of sex and labour trafficking across municipal, provincial, and federal jurisdictions. We understand that the federal Department of Public Safety has recognized the need to define and implement a new national action plan with the goal of addressing and ending human trafficking in Canada, and we applaud that effort.
Due to the complexity and geographic scope of trafficking operations, the disruption and eradication of such activity will occur only though a comprehensive, strategic approach, one that involves coordinated and targeted, multi-jurisdictional and multisectoral efforts.
The action plan must be supported through resource allocation to address the realities and challenges facing community organizations that assist victims and law enforcement agencies that investigate and detect human trafficking. The plan should also address comprehensive and strategic data collection, targeted policy and research initiatives, and objectives. There has already been extensive consultation done in this respect, and there is an agreement on policy, but the question is: how do you disrupt trafficking networks?
Third, corporate ownership secrecy is fuelling human trafficking in this country. There needs to be transparency on beneficial ownership in Canada. As an example, masking criminal profiteers makes it difficult to challenge, disrupt, and prosecute illicit body rub parlours, massage businesses, and holistic centres where human trafficking is occurring. Survivors of human trafficking, law enforcement, front-line service providers, and municipal policy-makers have all confirmed that individuals are being trafficked in illicit massage businesses, body rub parlours, and holistic spas across the country. These operate in all of our back yards—in all your backyards—where we live, where we work, and where we entertain ourselves.
What is unique about this form of trafficking is that massage parlour traffickers go through the process of registering their businesses as if they were legitimate. Conceivably then, it should be relatively simple to determine the basics about these businesses, such as what products or services they provide and who ultimately controls and makes money from the business. The actual or beneficial owner would in most cases be the trafficker in these instances and could be prosecuted as such.
However, in reality, the laws governing business registration are almost tailor-made for illicit massage parlour traffickers to hide behind. Neither the provinces nor the federal government requires those who set up companies to include the name of the actual owner of the business in the registration paperwork.
What is required depends on the jurisdiction. Sometimes the owner’s name is left blank or it is filled with false information. Sometimes it is filled with the name of a registered agent or someone paid to be the front person or point of contact. Sometimes the business is registered under the name of an anonymous shell company, such as another business that exists in name only but has no actual assets.
All of this obfuscation is perfectly legal. Requiring transparency around the business ownership for law enforcement purposes is key to ending traffickers' ability to hide their networks and their cash flow.
To effectively and sustainably target massage parlour trafficking, law enforcement must undertake organized crime investigations that focus on ownership by looking into money laundering and tax evasion. This would shut down entire networks, meaning that individuals who are being trafficked could not simply be moved around until police interest has calmed down. That is what happens today. Such prosecutions would not only punish perpetrators but also send a strong signal that human trafficking in massage parlours is no longer a low-risk, high-profit venture, as it is widely seen today.
Flipping the perception of the risk versus the reward of human trafficking in these and other venues is key to ending the proliferation of this crime. Unfortunately, the ability of businesses to obscure ownership, and therefore network ties, makes it incredibly time-consuming and resource-intensive, and sometimes impossible for law enforcement to undertake such investigations.
Our recommendations would include the following.
Make legislative amendments to federal, provincial, and territorial corporate statutes or other relevant legislation to ensure that corporations hold accurate and up-to-date information on beneficial owners that will be available to law enforcement, tax, and other authorities.
Assess potential mechanisms to enhance timely access by competent authorities to beneficial ownership information. We should be requiring businesses to register official operators and primary owners, such as beneficial owners and partners in the businesses, all of whom should be required to provide valid phone numbers, addresses, unique identifying numbers from non-expired Canadian passports, and non-expired Canadian provincial identification cards, driver's licences, or a non-expired passport issued by a foreign government. We should be providing municipal, provincial, and federal law enforcement with direct access to this information.
Impose criminal and civil liability for failure to report beneficial ownership information. We should hold the official operator listed on all registration records legally liable for the business, unless it can be confirmed that the listed operator is a victim who was compelled to list him or herself as an operator. We should be providing resource assistance to municipal policy-makers and law enforcement where the proliferation of these illicit spas and businesses exist.
I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have on this submission.
Thank you very much to the members of the committee for inviting me.
As has been said, I'm a Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia. For the past two decades, my scholarly research and a good deal of my pro bono legal work has focused on the issue of sexual violence against women, including the criminal laws surrounding sexual assault, prostitution, and pornography.
I'm here today speaking from that perspective, and I'm going to focus on the criminal law specifically. I understand that at least part of the impetus for these hearings was the proposed coming into force of Bill , which originally started as a private member's bill. I've addressed the specific provisions of the bill in my written submissions, and I'm happy to take questions on that.
What I will say overall is that I think the amendments that are being proposed to come into force are positive but modest and really somewhat peripheral to the core issues with the criminal laws relating to trafficking and prostitution.
In the short time I have with you this afternoon, I want to address three things. First, what do we mean when we talk about sex trafficking, and how does it relate to the prostitution industry as a whole? Is Canada meeting its international legal obligations to fight sex trafficking? What role do prostitution laws more broadly play in terms of Canada's meeting those international legal obligations?
Turning to the first of those questions, I'm sure the committee is aware of the confusion and misinformation surrounding these terms and that, really, some of the most common misconceptions are that trafficking requires crossing an international border. That's not true, but it is true that global poverty provides a supply to meet local demands when that local demand is not present, and that's why it's not enough to say we can just leave it to Canadian women to choose or not choose to enter the sex trade, or that if somehow we improve the conditions for Canadian women sufficiently, we'll know whether they are truly choosing or not. The reality is that there is an inexhaustible supply of poor women from around the world to fill that demand.
The second and related misconception is that trafficking requires movement of a person, but, of course, that's also not true legally. You don't have to move anyone to traffick them, although moving victims around does help to isolate and destabilize them. I have met many women who, during their time in prostitution, have been moved around from city to city, motel to motel, and to different provinces to isolate them from family and friends and to put them in situations in which they were wholly dependent on their pimp or trafficker.
Finally, I think the other big misconception about the relationship between trafficking and prostitution is that trafficking is forced and prostitution is free, and that's when we rename it “sex work”. That is not true. The reason these terms are not synonymous is because trafficking requires a third person. You can't traffic yourself, so it's true that not all prostitution is trafficking, but the reality is that plenty of women and girls are exploited in prostitution without a middleman or a trafficker. Their poverty, addiction, youth, indigeneity, or racialization is exploited directly by the men who buy them.
The idea that trafficking is the bad prostitution and everything else is the okay prostitution is wrong. Once you have a third party involved, trafficking is simply the exercise of influence, coercion, threats, or pressure to get someone to participate in or to remain in prostitution. Given the nature of the prostitution industry, trafficking is not rare. It is, in fact, pervasive where third parties are involved.
How has Canada then attempted to meet its international obligations? Well, as you know, Canada is a signatory to the Palermo protocol that requires Canada to take necessary measures to prevent and punish the trafficking in persons. Canada has attempted to meet this in two ways, first through the trafficking provisions of the Criminal Code starting in 2005. The problem, of course, 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.
The reality is that you don't need to use force or violence or threats if you can find someone sufficiently vulnerable. It's, in fact, better for your bottom line if you can get people who will comply without your having to threaten them with violence or rough them up. It can be enough, in fact, in many cases, for the pimp trafficker simply to threaten to reveal that the girl or woman is in prostitution to have her stay and comply.
It's because of how narrow this definition is that we see cases prosecuted instead under the procuring offence and under what used to be the “living on the avails” offence, now called “material benefit”. The fact that 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, I think fuels the false claim of prostitution industry supporters that trafficking doesn't really exist in Canada. That's a reminder that with the way we've currently structured our laws, both the procuring and material benefit offences are crucial to the fight against sex trafficking, because, in fact, they are the main charges being laid.
The second way in which these obligations are addressed is through the 2014 amendments to the prostitution laws more broadly. You have already heard Judge Morrison talk about the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. These provisions respond to the protocol's recognition that it is important to use the law to target the demand for prostitution directly, something that is not addressed at all by the trafficking provisions, which only apply to the traffickers. The greater the demand for prostitution, the more money traffickers stand to make and the more women and girls they need to meet that demand.
Targeting demand by criminalizing sex purchase is consistent with the emerging international trend based on the human rights of women and the evidence of the pervasive inequality of the prostitution industry. Canada has followed the lead of Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, and has been followed by France, Ireland, and Northern Ireland in adopting this kind of model. I would say to you that a society that is committed to sex equality, to reconciliation with indigenous women and girls, and to the rejection of sexualized racism cannot support men's purchase of sex by decriminalizing that activity.
One hundred percent of men who buy sex, at least from everything I have seen, choose to do so. They are choosing. We don't have to know the backstory of each individual woman to see if she is worthy of our compassion in some way. We simply have to know that the men are choosing, and they are choosing to create that market.
I remain deeply concerned, and I will just say this in conclusion. Based on relentless pressure and misinformation from those who want to legitimize a commercial prostitution industry in Canada, this committee's process will be used as a pretext. We will be told that the government has strengthened the trafficking provisions, so we don't need laws that target prostitution. I want to say explicitly that if that happens, I and others will be there to call you on it.
I want to urge you to take a gender-equality and human rights approach that puts the interests of those who make up the vast majority of those in the sex trade first. Prostitution markets are not inelastic. Traffickers are dissuaded by inhospitable environments. I would say that we are not there yet, but in terms of the legal provisions we have put in place, we are moving in the right direction.
That's what I have to say.
Hello Mr. Chair and committee members.
Thank you for having me here today. I do speak English, but it will be easier if I speak French.
As I listened to what you have been saying, it seems clear to me that sexual exploitation and human trafficking are not really part of your reality. That is why I want to come back to the victims and talk about who they are. The victims are your friends, your sisters, your daughters. They are girls who thought that, one day, their prince charming would come along and save them. They watched Sleeping Beauty, where a prince awakens a girl from a deep sleep. They watched Snow White, who is saved by a street gang of seven dwarves and then prince charming comes along and offers her the life of her dreams. They watched Beauty and the Beast in which Belle transforms the beast into her prince charming with her love, a perfect example of Stockholm syndrome.
Slowly and silently, they become desensitized to sexuality and all of a sudden their prince turns into a frog. This happens so surreptitiously that they do not see anything coming and then they feel responsible for what is happening to them. Others go to a party, unknowingly take a date rape drug, and are gang raped. Their lives are forever changed in an instant.
Who are the victims?
I am the founder and director of La Maison de Mélanie. I work with victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The victims are police officers, teachers, or MPs who were captured one day. Sexual exploitation has extremely serious consequences, but today I have the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of myself, as a survivor, and on behalf of all those that I fondly refer to as my little sisters in combat, those who have survived the horror of this heinous crime.
In 2014, it became an offence to purchase sexual services of any kind under the Criminal Code of Canada. The women and girls in the industry are supposed to be considered victims, but that is not at all reflected in the society in which we live or in the way such matters are handled by the courts. The stigmatization, exclusion, marginalization, judgment, and rejection that we, as victims, have to live with day in and day out are completely unacceptable and unbearable.
In addition to surviving the most horrific atrocities, we have to deal with constant revictimization, which prevents us from creating a new identity and growing as individuals. By failing to enforce Bill C-452 to give us justice and by making us responsible for what we experienced, the government is giving power to our exploiters and clients and is violating our rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
We have the right to be recognized for who we are—victims—and to be heard and believed. Our rights, including our right to redress from the courts, are violated because very few people are receptive to the horror that we experienced. They believe that we are responsible for our own dehumanization, which is a modern form of slavery. We also have the right to obtain justice and to be protected. Since that would involve imposing exemplary sentences on our exploiters and applying consecutive sentences, it is clear that, in your eyes and the eyes of society, we are worth less than those who exploit us.
Today, I hold a bachelor's degree from the Université de Montréal, and I am just about to finish a second bachelor's degree so that I can become a member of the Ordre professionnel des criminologues du Québec. I was awarded a medal of honour by the Senate for my involvement in Canadian society, for my contribution, and for my work with victims.
If the current act were amended and a place were made for victims, how many others could become contributing members of this great country of Canada.
Human trafficking does not just affect victims and their families. It also affects society as a whole. If we fail to provide adequate services for victims of sexual exploitation, we are responsible for higher hospital fees, suicides, children being placed, abandonment, abuse, and addiction. However, if victims were given what they need now, we could help them grow.
I would like to make a comparison with veterans. A total of 42% of members of the Canadian Armed Forces experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, whereas 94% of women who are raped experience such symptoms. Victims of sexual exploitation are raped every day. They are constantly being raped by one or more people. What percentage of them will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder?
La Maison de Mélanie and I would like to respectfully make some recommendations.
First, sex education needs to begin in elementary school, particularly when it comes to the notion of consent.
Second, we need to ensure that professionals who may be called upon to help victims are given the proper training so that they can recognize victims and intervene appropriately. I am talking about people such as police officers, social workers, teachers, and others who work in schools, in sports, and in community organizations.
Third, judges need training so that they are aware of the impact human trafficking has on victims.
Fourth, there is a need for more services for victims of sexual exploitation, for example, housing services that meet their needs.
Fifth, we recommend the enforcement of former Bill , which seeks to remove the burden of proof from victims of human trafficking and place it on exploiters, as well as to provide consecutive sentences for offences related to human trafficking.
Sixth, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights needs to be enforced, particularly the right to protection before, during, and after court proceedings.
Seventh, we recommend making legal help available to the victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Thank you to the witnesses for their testimony today.
When we initiated this study, it was basically to look at the exploitation of minors, women and girls, and also the LGBTQ2 communities. Vulnerable communities are taken advantage of, whether it be through labour, forced labour, trafficking of labour, or sex trafficking.
We went across the county, but we started by having a meeting with Statistics Canada to find out the scope of what human trafficking looks like within Canada. It was very surprising to see, starting with Statistics Canada data here in Ottawa, and then going from Halifax to Montreal to Toronto to Edmonton to Vancouver, that nobody's numbers matched. It's something that I think we have an opportunity to tackle when we're looking at the issue of human trafficking within Canada.
I will start with Ms. Benedet and then go on to Ms. Gosse. I'm looking for your comments specifically.
There was a national task force on human trafficking that was struck by the federal government. I want to know what your opinion is of the efficiency or effectiveness of this task force or this action plan.
Secondly, what can we do to have a more collaborative approach to having realistic numbers when it comes to collecting that data and understanding the full picture of what human trafficking looks like in Canada in a whole-of-country approach?
I would like to begin by thanking all the witnesses for their testimony. I've got so many questions and so little time. Let me jump in, if I could, to Judge Morrison and Professor Benedet.
We've heard different views in this committee, as you might expect, on the issue of human trafficking and the connection between it and prostitution. Some believe that prostitution is a form of human trafficking.
Professor Benedet, I think you expressed that view well when you talked about the distinction between forced human trafficking versus prostitution. You called that distinction wrong. I think you called it bad prostitution versus okay prostitution.
Professor Benoit of the University of Victoria pointed out that “adult consensual sex for money is not human trafficking”, and she argued that we ought not to conflate those two thoughts.
Second, we have the case for repeal that Pivot in Vancouver has put forward, arguing that the PCEPA violates sex workers' rights under the charter, and that restrictions on communicating for the purposes of selling sexual services infringes on a woman's charter rights.
We obviously have these different perspectives. I'd like to ask each of you if you could comment on that dichotomy, and how can viewing prostitution as human trafficking help or hinder efforts to fight human trafficking?
Perhaps I could start with you, Professor Benedet.
Thank you for being here.
I think this is a disturbing subject for a lot of us. It's something that we just don't realize is taking place. I have three sons who are police officers. I remember when they first started talking about trafficking, I asked them if this was really taking place and they told me, yes, increasingly. Their response, for the most part, was that their hands were tied. There was so little they could do.
We banter back and forth about whether or not stricter punishment is the solution to this, or if we should use other solutions. I'm reminded of an old song, from back in the '70s: “I'd love to change the world—but I don't know what to do”.
I'll bet you would know what to do if you had the opportunity or the power. I'm just thinking that if there were laws to prohibit the buying and trafficking of sex over.... Well, let's put an age limit on. That could be a start. Is that something that could be done?
If there's a woman you are connected to and she happens to be under 21, let's say, and it can be proven that you are involved with sex trafficking, and you wind up in the slammer for a while, if you received some really hard punishment, wouldn't that be a deterrent? Or perhaps you could identify the businesses involved. If aiding and abetting were a charge against somebody who was pimping these girls, wouldn't that be a step in the right direction?
Judge, I understand and respect that some people don't think jails work. Is that the prevailing opinion amongst all those who are involved in the sex trafficking—
We do have laws in place. I'd like to see the definition of trafficking brought into line with the definition in the Palermo protocol. It's easy to arrest men for buying sex, but we have the Vancouver Police Department that has a stated policy that they won't enforce the law, that they're not going to enforce that provision in section 286.1, and they've encouraged other police departments in British Columbia to adopt the same approach. I don't understand it. We don't have to go to Sweden for a model. We can look to King County in Washington state, which has done excellent work using technology to target the most prolific johns and bring criminal sanctions against them without ever involving the women.
We have the tools at our disposal, but we have no will. You can keep ratcheting up the punishment all you want. If there's no enforcement and no convictions, that's the problem. It's the failure to enforce that is the issue. I think ratcheting up the punishment actually makes convictions less likely. We saw that when the penalties went way up for purchasing girls under age. We saw men arguing mistake of age, that they thought she was older, and they were being acquitted. I think there's a reluctance to impose those stiff penalties.
I've been to the john school a number of times in Toronto when it existed. It was a very interesting process in which men were diverted out of the criminal justice system. They did this day of training and paid a fine that went to an organization called Streetlight, which I don't think exists anymore.
It's an interesting model, but it is a model in which there is no criminal conviction, in which there is no criminal record, leaving aside the issue of punishment. When the men there were asking questions about what would happen or what wouldn't happen if they weren't there, that's what they were afraid of. They were afraid of the accountability of a public criminal conviction that other people would find out about. That was the deterrent—not the person who came in to talk about sexually transmitted diseases, not the woman who had been in prostitution who came in to talk about how she had been abused as a child and how she had ended up there. What they cared about was that their families might find out, that they might not be able to cross the border to the U.S.
So I know. The studies we have show that's the biggest deterrent, some kind of public criminal accountability for this behaviour. It doesn't need to be attached to a severe punishment, but it does have to be public.