Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my support for Bill C-75. I would like to use my time today to discuss the proposed changes to this bill that would affect the LGBTQ2 community, human trafficking and the victim surcharge.
As special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, I am particularly proud of the work of our government in advancing the rights of LBGTQ2 Canadians and the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in making concrete, tangible legislative changes that would improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians.
Today, on the the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we pause to reflect on the lives of transgender people here in Canada and around the world that have been lost to murder, suicide, hatred and discrimination; the lives diminished due to overt transphobia and misogyny; and the daily discrimination faced by trans children, siblings, parents and their loved ones, I am proud, as the first openly gay MP elected from Alberta to the House, that Parliament passed Bill C-16 to protect trans persons in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. I am particularly proud that our government led this charge.
I am also proud of the work of our government in passing legislation to enable Canadians who have criminal records for same-sex consensual activity to have these records expunged, and I acknowledge the leadership of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on this file.
I would also like to thank the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada for including in Bill C-75 the removal of section 159, which discriminates against young gay or bisexual men. That would now be removed from the Criminal Code with the passing of Bill C-75.
I also applaud the work of the committee and the ministry in responding to expert testimony for the repeal of the bawdy house and vagrancy provisions that were used by police forces to arrest gay men who frequented gay clubs and bathhouses. Men arrested in these police raids, many now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, still face criminal records as a result of these charges. We heard the testimony, and the committee and the ministry responded. Should Bill C-75 pass, these odious provisions in the Criminal Code would be removed and amends could thus be made.
Parts of the bill pertain to human trafficking and the victim surcharge.
I think it is very important to clearly state that human trafficking cannot be tolerated and that our government sees it as a very serious concern. That is why we continue to work closely with the provinces, territories, law enforcement agencies, victim services groups, organizations representing indigenous peoples, and other community groups, as well as our international partners. We are working together to combat all forms of human trafficking in Canada and abroad, to provide victims with special protection and support, to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and to ensure that their punishment reflects the severity of the crime.
Human trafficking is a very difficult crime to detect because of its clandestine nature and victims' reluctance to report their situations out of fear of their traffickers. We heard testimony about that when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights travelled across the country to listen to victims of human trafficking and to see how we could change the Criminal Code to provide more opportunities for police to work with those organizations that work with victims.
The legislative changes within Bill C-75 would provide police and prosecutors with additional tools for investigation and prosecution. These measures would bring the perpetrators of human trafficking to justice so they can answer for the severity of their actions.
The amendments proposed in Bill C-38 would bring into force amendments that have already been passed by Parliament, but were not promulgated in the former parliamentary initiative, Bill C-452. They would also strengthen the legislation to combat all forms of human trafficking, whether through sexual exploitation or forced labour, while respecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution.
We heard of heinous crimes being committed not just against those who are unknown to the perpetrators, but also against family members. Family trafficking exists in this country, and we must make sure that police forces are armed with the tools they need to be able to put an end to such heinous crimes.
More specifically, the proposed changes will make it easier to prosecute human trafficking offences by introducing a presumption that will enable the Crown to prove that the accused exercised control, direction or influence over the victim's movements by establishing that the accused lived with or was habitually in the company of the victim.
In addition, these changes would add human trafficking to the list of offences to which the provisions imposing a reverse onus for forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
I would now like to discuss the changes that would affect the victim surcharge. Bill C-75 proposes to restore judicial discretion to waive the victim surcharge by guiding judges to waive the victim surcharge only when the offender is truly unable to pay. For certain offences against the administration of justice, where the total amount would be disproportionate in certain circumstances, the bill would also provide for limited judicial discretion to not impose a federal victim surcharge amount per offence.
The federal victim surcharge, which is set out in the Criminal Code, is imposed on a sentencing basis, and revenue is collected and used by the province or territory where the criminal act was committed to assist in the sentencing process for funding victims services. Bill C-75 would maintain that the federal victim surcharge must be imposed ex officio and must apply cumulatively to each offence. However, to address concerns about the negative impact of current federal victim surcharge provisions on marginalized offenders, the bill would provide limited judicial discretion regarding the mandatory and cumulative imposition of the surcharge in certain circumstances.
Bill C-75 would provide clear direction as to what would constitute undue hardship. These guidelines would ensure that the mandatory exemption, or waiver, would be applied consistently and only to offenders who were truly unable to pay the surcharge. In addition, the bill would state that undue hardship would refer to the financial ability to pay and was not simply caused by harm associated with incarceration. We are trying to avoid the criminalization and over-criminalization of people simply because of their inability to pay a federal victim surcharge.
For certain offences against the justice administration, in the event that the cumulative surcharge was disproportionate to the circumstances, Bill C-75 would contain provisions allowing an exception to the victim fine surcharge ratio. This exception would apply to two types of offences against the administration of justice: failure to appear in court; and breach of conditions of bail by a peace officer or court order, and only when said breach did not cause any moral, bodily or financial damage to the victim.
Studies show that marginalized offenders, especially indigenous offenders and offenders with mental health and addiction issues, are more likely to be found guilty of offences against the administration of justice.
Under the existing victim surcharge provisions, it is unlikely that much of the money collected in the federal victim surcharges that are paid out to the provinces and territories comes from groups of offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge or who are only able to pay part of the surcharge because of their personal situation or because of their multiple offences against the administration of justice.
In addition, offenders who suffer undue hardship as a result of the mandatory victim surcharge are, by the current application of the provisions, hampered in their ability to regain financial stability. This places them in a situation where the surcharge does not allow them to successfully reintegrate into society after serving their sentences or paying their outstanding fines, and they risk reoffending. These types of situations do not help survivors or victims of crime or the provision of services to help them. This proposed exception would be consistent with the principles of fairness and equity.
I am confident that by maintaining a higher mandatory surcharge, this proposed legislation would support the objective of the victim surcharge to provide a source of funding for provincial and territorial victim services while strengthening offender accountability regarding victims and society in general. At the same time, the bill would be in keeping with the principles of proportionality, fairness and respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not having gone through law school, I can say that it is an honour to serve on this committee and to be part of making Bill C-75 appear in the House today.