Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of private member's Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons). I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for introducing this important piece of legislation.
The purpose of Bill C-452 is essentially to step up the criminal justice system's response to human trafficking, one of the most odious violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.
It is generally acknowledged that trafficking in persons occurs in three stages: the recruitment, transportation and accommodation of a person for a specific purpose; exploitation, usually sexual exploitation; and forced labour. The existence of one of these factors is enough for a person's conduct to constitute the crime of trafficking in persons. A person who recruits a victim for the purpose of exploiting that person is engaged in human trafficking to the same degree as someone who transports or houses a victim for that purpose.
Traffickers force victims to work or provide services in circumstances in which they believe that any refusal on their part would threaten their safety or that of a person they know. The expression “labour or a service” includes, for example, all types of sexual services, domestic services, agricultural work and factory work.
Victims suffer physical, sexual and psychological violence and face threats of violence against family members, including violence or threats of physical violence that may be carried out.
A crime this serious requires that more rigorous measures be taken in criminal law. My colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, has introduced two bills to combat these reprehensible crimes. We must all stand up and help the victims of human trafficking.
I see that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights made amendments to this bill. I believe my colleague who introduced the bill is of the view that those amendments contribute to the bill's main objectives, particularly those of making offenders accountable for their acts, providing for penalties that reflect the seriousness of the crime and ensuring that offenders do not reap the benefits of their unlawful acts.
Before commenting on the specific proposals contained in the bill and explaining why I believe they deserve to be supported, I would like to put them in context. This bill would make it possible to expand the exhaustive framework of statutory provisions against trafficking in persons.
In 2005, three specific human trafficking offences were added to the Criminal Code. In 2010, a new offence of trafficking in children was adopted when Bill C-268 sponsored by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul was enacted. An offender convicted of that offence is liable to mandatory minimum penalties when trafficking victims are under 18 years of age.
In 2012, another bill sponsored by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul granted extraterritorial jurisdiction over all Criminal Code trafficking offences and created a tool to assist the courts in interpreting the human trafficking provisions.
In addition, section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act prohibits transnational trafficking in persons, and many acts related to trafficking in persons, such as forcible confinement, kidnapping, sexual assault and uttering threats, to cite only a few examples, are offences under the Criminal Code.
However, it is possible to do more. Bill C-452 provides, first of all, for the creation of an evidentiary presumption that would help prosecutors establish that trafficking in persons has been committed. We know that victims are vulnerable and that they fear their traffickers. That means that they may well be reluctant to testify, and we understand that.
The presumption would allow prosecutors to establish the commission of the offence of trafficking in persons by submitting evidence that an accused lives with or is habitually in the company of a person who is exploited.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights amended this proposal to make it compatible with other similar presumptions currently set out in the Criminal Code, particularly subsection 212(3), which establishes a presumption for the purposes of procuring provisions, namely paragraph 212(1)(j), and subsections 212(2) and 212(2.1).
Prosecutors also find it difficult to establish that the offence was committed because victims in these situations are often too afraid of their pimps to testify against them.
In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutional validity of this presumption in R. v. Downey. The final submissions of the majority are significant and directly relevant to trafficking in persons:
Prostitutes are a particularly vulnerable segment of society. The cruel abuse they suffer inflicted by their parasitic pimps has been well documented. The impugned section is aimed not only at remedying a social problem but also at providing some measure of protection for the prostitute by eliminating the necessity of testifying.
Surely the same considerations apply to the victims of human trafficking.
Bill C-452 also provides that a sentence handed down for an offence involving trafficking in persons shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for another offence arising out of the same event or series of events. Establishing mandatory consecutive sentencing sends a clear message: committing an offence leads to a long prison term. Is this not a message we want to send to the perpetrators of human trafficking offences? There are few crimes that deserve such lengthy sentences. I applaud this proposal.
Bill C-452 would also require an offender to prove that his property does not constitute proceeds of crime for the purposes of the Criminal Code forfeiture provisions. Trafficking in persons necessarily involves profiting from the suffering of others. In fact, global revenues generated by this crime are estimated at some $10 U.S. billion a year. That is unacceptable.
Trafficking in persons is thus one of the three most lucrative organized crime activities. We must ensure that traffickers are not allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains. It is essential that we strip them of the monetary benefits they derive from the exploitation of others so that the public can trust in the justice system's ability to hold offenders accountable for their actions and to bring them to justice. Justice is not served if an offender is allowed to profit from the suffering he inflicts on others.
The provisions of Bill C-452 contribute to the existing legislative framework to fight this crime, supplemented by a multi-pronged response to a complex problem.
I am particularly pleased to note that, on June 6, 2012, the government introduced the national action plan to combat human trafficking, which acknowledges that an exhaustive approach must be taken to consolidate efforts to fight this crime by emphasizing the four Ps: the protection of victims, the prosecution of offenders, partnerships with key stakeholders and, of course, the prevention of trafficking in persons.
All activities are coordinated by the working group on trafficking in persons, which is managed by Public Safety Canada. This shows that Canada is currently taking a strong approach to human trafficking. However, that does not mean that we cannot do more. We must be vigilant and do everything in our power to ensure that our approach is as rigorous as possible, which inevitably presupposes ongoing analysis to determine what else we can do.
Bill C-452 is precisely an example of what else we can do. We can support Bill C-452, which would assist in securing convictions, guaranteeing penalties that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and depriving offenders of their ill-gotten gains.
I believe that all members of the House should join me in supporting this bill.