Mr. Richard Marceau (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, BQ)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-49. I note that the debate has wandered a bit in the past few minutes, and would like to get it back on track to the subject we need to address. This is, in fact, a very important and serious subject, one the House of Commons needs to address and act on as soon as possible, since it affects the most vulnerable members of our society.
This extremely important issue resurfaces from time to time in the media. Unfortunately, likely because of its complexity, it has not so far seemed to hold people's attention long enough to result in any effective action against it. Allow me to explain.
We know that organized networks with connections with major criminal organizations are taking advantage of others' distress, young women for the most part, but children as well. Very often, these vulnerable people are ready to do anything at all to escape the poverty they are living in.
The causes of this situation can vary from one individual to another, but there is a common denominator relating to misery, poverty and secrecy. The preconceived idea people have of trafficking in persons is, more often than not, associated with what used to be called, inappropriately to my mind, white slavery.
As I have just said, certain people, mostly women, get recruited for jobs here, in hopes of a better future and with no idea of the real hell that awaits them.
To take a familiar example: young women from the former soviet republics are approached by fake talent or modelling agencies and leap at the chance for a lucrative career in fashion. Others are approached by agencies claiming to be recruiting au pairs, that is young women to look after Canadian families' children. They end up in the clutches of criminal organizations that take away their passports and have well organized rings forcing them into strip clubs or prostitution.
There are other cases even more disturbing than those. Although we cannot take it upon ourselves to quantify or classify the degree of another's misery, it is important to know that, in this 21st century, some of these women end up as sex slaves. They are subjected to unimaginable abuse and constant threats on their own lives or those of people back in their country of origin, children, brothers and sisters, or parents. They live with the constant fear of something happening to themselves or a loved one.
Trafficking in persons is a very broad issue, and I am deliberately dwelling specifically on this grim aspect of the issue, because it is both more insidious and more common around us than we are really aware. I could just as well have brought up the case of refugees, who are often clandestine immigrants, and who are being exploited by unscrupulous businesses in terms of the basic rights of workers or by individuals who reduce them to the condition of slaves by employing them as domestics.
Such situations exist and they are disturbing, but no efforts appear to have been made so far to denounce them.
That is the context in which we reviewed and addressed Bill C-49 and that is why the Bloc Québécois will be supporting it.
Allow me to digress briefly. Until just recently, we MPs got to spend a great deal of time in our respective ridings. I have been asked what bills we would be working on upon returning to the House. Whenever I mentioned the bill dealing with trafficking in persons, people almost always thought that legislation was already in place, that such behaviour was prohibited and that this problem was being addressed. They were very surprised when I told them that they thought wrong and this was going to be on our agenda.
We figure that Bill C-49 will provide police and crown attorneys with better legal tools to fight this trafficking in persons problem, especially where sexual exploitation and forced labour are concerned.
According to official statistics, there are approximately 800 reported cases—and the word “reported” is important—of victims of trafficking in persons in Canada. As one might expect in any such situation, this is probably but the tip of the iceberg.
The environment those involved live in is understandably not exactly conducive to denouncing abuse or effectively seeking resources capable of helping these victims.
We are supporting Bill C-49 essentially because it creates new offences specifically to prevent and denounce trafficking in persons and to hold the perpetrators of the crime responsible.
From a legal standpoint, trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purpose of exploitation. Although the bill does not mention it explicitly, this offence specifically addresses exploitation in the sex trade and in forced labour.
This bill also legally prohibits, in a broad sense, trafficking in persons for financial gain and the falsification, destruction or alteration of identification documents for the purpose of facilitating the commission of these criminal offences.
Bill C-49 also establishes sentences as serious as imprisonment for life for every person found guilty of trafficking in persons. This maximum sentence of the Canadian system would apply to individuals who, while trafficking in persons, kidnapped, committed an aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against, or caused death to the victim, or if they were an accomplice to these acts.
Every person who receives a financial benefit from the forced labour imposed on the victims of trafficking is liable to imprisonment for a maximum sentence of 10 years. Every person found guilty of possessing travel or identification documents such as a passport belonging to a victim, is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.
As a whole, the bill should be effective in addressing this growing problem and its atrocious social, individual and personal consequences.
The only odd thing is the relative simplicity of the proposed legislation. As I was saying in my introduction, it is a wonder that the government waited so long to tackle this issue head on. The bill includes only eight clauses. It is short and specific but took a long time coming.
To correct the unbearable situation that thousands of people are living in, the Bloc will do everything in its power to move this bill swiftly through the House of Commons and the parliamentary committee. As usual, we are open to any suggestions for improvement from witnesses at the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Again, the bill is simple and gets to the heart of the problem.
The concept of exploitation is clearly defined in the context of human trafficking. So exploitation means making a person work or provide services, quite often of a sexual nature, by acting in such a way that victims fear for their safety or that of a loved one if they do not comply with the demands being made. In fact, it would be difficult to be any more specific.
Imagine the stress and fear that prevent an individual from identifying an abuser or pimp, and you get a good idea of the problem we are trying to eradicate here. Add to this the clandestine nature and the international ramifications of the problem, and it becomes a complex issue.
Once in effect, Bill C-49 will provide us with modern tools with which to fight slavery, which unfortunately has also adapted to the reality of globalization.
As I said during my introduction, prostitution is central to the activities of organized gangs, and the recruitment of foreign workers is facilitated by the wretched reality of people misled about the nature of the work they are seeking.
In a 2000 report by the United Nations on the trafficking of women, Canada was among the top 30 destination countries for human trafficking. We all agree that this is less glorious for “the best country in the world”.
This report states that victims of trafficking do not expose their employers, among others, because once identified by the authorities, they will not be allowed to remain in their country of adoption in order to seek protection or demand redress.
In a report published this year, the International Labour Organization estimated that 2.45 million people in the world are victims of forced labour.
The issue we are addressing today in the House is not, of course, restricted to the sexual exploitation of the victims of human trafficking. It is important to keep that in mind, although that aspect is easier to get a handle on. There are, however, also situations of forced labour under physical or psychological threat in such areas as construction, hotels, shipping or agriculture.
Exploitation of one human being by another is present everywhere at various levels, and the International Labour Organization has estimated that the revenue generated annually by such exploitation amounts to some US$32 billion.
Other countries have moved on this more quickly than Canada—and more power to them.
In 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which created new offences as well as more severe penalties for crimes already included in the criminal code. Victims who work with the American authorities in order to help advance investigations into rings of trafficking and forced labour will be protected from deportation. The United Kingdom, France, Russia and Japan have recently amended their legislation to include provisions on trafficking in human beings.
Finally, passage of Bill C-49, the bill before the House at this time, will move Canada one step further along the road to a better world, and the Bloc Québécois will make an effective contribution to this.
In closing, I will make a commitment on behalf of my party to getting this bill passed as promptly as possible in order to provide our police, prosecutors and the law enforcement community with all the best tools needed to counteract this 21st century scourge as quickly as possible. This is my solemn appeal to all colleagues of all parties: work along with us to get this bill passed quickly, so that such tools will be available for the protection of these people, these women and children, in such great need of our assistance and protection.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Criminal Code