Speech on Human Trafficking (C-310)

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paulfor her dedication to this important issue. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak in support of legislation that would strengthen Canada's ability to prosecute human traffickers.

Bill C-310 is an important piece of legislation that proposes an amendment to section 7 of the Criminal Code which would add the current trafficking in persons offences to the list of offences which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, could be prosecuted in Canada.

I proposed a similar type of legislation, Bill C-212, which would empower the courts to prosecute the offence of luring a child when the offence is committed by a Canadian or permanent resident outside Canada's borders. Giving our courts the ability to prosecute offenders regardless of what jurisdiction the crime was committed in is an important tool in combatting crime like human trafficking or child exploitation in the 21st century.

Bill C-310 also proposes an amendment that would provide evidentiary definitions for exploitation by providing specific examples of exploitative conducts, such as use of threats, violence, coercion, and fraudulent means. The courts would be able to provide clear examples of exploitation.

Human trafficking, also referred to as the modern day slave trade, is a despicable crime against humanity that I know all members of this House would agree requires our utmost efforts to eliminate.

The international trafficking of people is a problem larger than average Canadians would assume. We often hear stories of the sex trade of women and girls, and men and boys occurring in faraway countries. However, when it comes to human trafficking, Canada is a destination country, a transit country, and a source country. Up to 16,000 people are trafficked to or through Canada every year.

The U.S. state department estimates there are between 600,000 and 800,000 global victims of human trafficking each and every year. While the majority of victims are women and girls, men and boys are also victimized. Regardless of gender, victims are knowingly lured into a criminal world that views them as objects, to be bought and traded, used for a certain amount of time and, in many cases, discarded when they no longer serve the criminals' purposes.

As a source country, many of our young vulnerable Canadians have been lured away from communities by the prospect or the promise of economic opportunity, and then sold into a dark underworld that steals from young people their freedom, their hope and, in some cases, their lives.

In Canada, we know young aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable to being victimized by traffickers and other parasitic criminals. We know about the Stolen Sisters, some 500 missing or murdered aboriginal women from across Canada. In northern British Columbia, Highway 16 has earned the unfortunate moniker “Highway of Tears”. There are a series of unresolved disappearances and murders of aboriginal women in the region and of course, we know of the dozens of prostituted women who have fallen victim to unspeakable crimes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In Canada, and around the world, victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation often come from the impoverished and marginalized conditions that make them vulnerable to violence and abuse. What cannot be ignored when discussing human trafficking is its root cause, which is poverty.

Growing economic inequality across the globe is a major cause for concern. In fact, this is the foundation of the occupy Wall Street protests and the similar protests it has sparked in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and, indeed, across the globe. Economic inequality creates conditions where people are desperate to provide a more secure future for themselves and for their families.

As labour markets increasingly see no borders, people are easily preyed upon by those offering the promise of a new job in a prosperous country. Once they fall into the trap, they are often manipulated into believing they themselves are criminals and oftentimes, the safety of their families are threatened should they ever try to escape.

Predators of human trafficking are often highly sophisticated, multinational criminal organizations that are experts at trading humans, just as they would weapons, drugs or firearms. The existence of modern-day criminal organizations like this requires our governments to enact clear, legal frameworks to protect victims and prosecute offenders. Experts argue that to effectively combat human trafficking we must adopt a three-pronged approach: prevention, prosecution and protection.

Bill C-310 would strengthen our ability to prosecute human traffickers. I believe Canada must also take steps to strengthen the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of its victims. In so many complex issues our community faces today, the key to achieving success is prevention, but often politicians have a difficult time justifying investing taxpayer dollars in preventive measures, which, despite a policy's proven effectiveness, may not have the same immediate gains like a new ice rink or a ribbon-cutting ceremony would.

In terms of prevention, we know that education is the key. A lack of awareness about the issue of human trafficking persists in our society. We need a national strategy to combat human trafficking that emphasizes coordination and partnership with various levels of departments of government, the RCMP, other countries, non-profit organizations and others. This level of coordination is key to ensuring protection is adequately provided to the victims of human trafficking.

There are many obstacles to identifying the victims of human trafficking. Oftentimes the first and only opportunity to identify them is at the border when many of them may still falsely believe that they are entering the country for legitimate purposes.

When we come across a potential victim of human trafficking, there are many challenges to providing the necessary elements of protection. We must protect them against unjust detention and deportation. There is a need for support services, such as shelter, health care and counselling. As I mentioned earlier, the lives of these victims and their families are often threatened, which makes it imperative that we offer witness protection services.

Members of the House have spoken about the police resources required to combat human trafficking. Our communities have been asking the federal government to provide adequate levels of resources so police can do their jobs. Canada's New Democrats have been calling for an increase of 2,500 police officers and resources to combat gangs and gang violence and to prevent our youth from being lured into criminal organizations.

In 2006, the government issued new guidelines for the issuance of temporary resident permits to victims of human trafficking, a step forward in combatting this serious crime. However, these permits have had their shortfalls. According to the Canada Council for Refugees:

—the temporary residence permits have proven inadequate: they are discretionary and are not always offered to trafficked persons; they impose an unreasonable burden of proof on the trafficked person; and the mandatory involvement of law enforcement agencies has deterred some trafficked persons from applying.

Canada's official opposition is calling on the government to provide victims of human trafficking a permanent option to stay in Canada. We call for this in part due to the shortcomings of the temporary resident permit, but also because of the very nature of this heinous crime. Victims must be given the choice to remain in Canada as permanent residents. They must be protected from prosecution themselves. There must be mechanisms in place to ensure victims are offered a full range of support services rather than treated as criminals.

I am hopeful that all members rise to speak in support of this bill. They will recognize that the fight against human trafficking is not over. Much work remains to be done to ensure that our country is doing all it can to combat the widespread scourge of human trafficking.

I would again like to recognize the efforts of my hon. colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul and would call on all members of the House to support Bill C-310.