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SECOND READING OF BILL C-268

 

Hon. Yonah Martin moved second reading of Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).

"Honourable senators, I am pleased to have the opportunity to sponsor this private member's bill, Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentences for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).

This important bill addresses a pressing issue, appropriate punishment for those who traffic our most vulnerable members, our children.

I will start by thanking the member of Kildonan—St. Paul for her concerted and ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking of minors in Canada and for galvanizing an army of organizations and countless Canadians across the nation in support of this bill.

Bill C-268 proposes to strengthen our existing Criminal Code protections by articulating a minimum sentence for those guilty of trafficking minors. As a society, we need to send a clear message that trafficking of children is a grave crime, and severe penalties will be imposed on anyone who engages in such despicable conduct.

To achieve this important goal, the bill will create a separate offence for trafficking a person under the age of 18 years, which will carry mandatory minimum penalties of six years for the aggravated offence where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and five years where the maximum penalty is 14 years of imprisonment. This offence will mirror the existing offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, which does not make a distinction in age of the victims. This main trafficking-in-persons offence, along with two other related offences, was enacted of 2005 with all-party support, which reflects the importance that parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, place on this issue.

These Criminal Code trafficking provisions address every aspect of trafficking in persons. The main offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, prohibits anyone from engaging in specified acts such as recruiting, transporting, harbouring or controlling the movements of another person for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person. This offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment, reflecting the severity of the crime and its harmful consequences to victims and Canadian society. A new trafficking in children offence proposed by Bill C-268 is modeled on this offence. Proposed section 279.02 makes it an offence to receive "a financial or material benefit, knowing that it results from" the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Proposed section 279.03 prohibits the withholding or destroying of travel or identity documents in order to commit or facilitate the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment. These offences are used in addition to existing Criminal Code offences such as kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault, uttering threats, extortion, and the prostitution-related provisions to address human trafficking cases.

Although these crimes carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years and up to life imprisonment, there are currently no minimum sentences provided even when the victim is a child.

Human trafficking, especially exploitation of minors, is a despicable crime that violates victims' human rights and offends the most basic values of a free and democratic society. Tragically, this type of criminal conduct is not something that happens only occasionally on the margins of society. Rather, it occurs everywhere around the world, as evidenced by the global revenues generated by this crime. These revenues are estimated to amount to as much as US$10 billion per year and are within the top three money-makers for organized crime.

Significantly and sadly, we know that trafficking in persons disproportionately affects children. UNICEF estimates indicate that as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked globally each year. The U.S. State Department's 2008 annual report on human trafficking estimates that 800,000 persons are trafficked around the world each year, with 80 per cent of these transnational victims being women, and up to 50 per cent of all victims being children.

These vulnerable victims suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse including threats of violence or actual harm to their loved ones. This abuse is compounded by their living and working conditions, which are beyond what any of us could even imagine.

Imani Nakpangi, who is the first person in Canada convicted of human trafficking involving a minor, received a three-year sentence for the trafficking of a 15-year-old girl but was credited with 13 months for pre-trial custody. He made over $350,000 sexually exploiting her for over two years before she was able to escape. He brutally controlled "Eve" by assaulting her, threatening her, threatening to kidnap her brother and threatening to harm her parents. Without conscience, he used his illicit profits to purchase a BMW and a large home in Niagara Falls for himself. He will spend less time in jail for this conviction than he spent exploiting and brutalizing this vulnerable girl whose life he has completely destroyed. This sentence, and another recent case of Michael Lennox Mark, is even more appalling. Last year, Montreal resident Michael Lennox Mark received a two-year sentence, but with double credit for the year served before his trial, the man who horrifically victimized a 17-year-old girl over two years spent only a week in jail after his conviction.

The girls in both these cases lived in sheer horror during their victimization, and continue to live in fear of their perpetrators who are back on the streets far too soon. The sentences of Imani Nakpangi and Michael Lennox Mark represent a serious failure of our current criminal justice system to protect the young victims. We can correct this imbalance and fill the gap in the form of Bill C-268. We must ensure that those who engage in such heinous conduct are brought to justice, and that their punishment appropriately reflects the gravity of their crime.

This imbalance is what Bill C-268 is all about. If passed into law it will ensure that anyone who traffics children will be in jail for a longer time, as well they should be. Of course, a strong criminal justice response alone is not enough. Correcting the imbalance will require a multidisciplinary effort of local, provincial and federal authorities, services and resources. There is no doubt that this complex problem requires a multi-faceted response. What we must remember, though, is that Bill C-268 is an important piece of that response, a step that must be taken to protect the most vulnerable victims — our children.

Like Canada, other countries have also legislated trafficking-specific offences; however, many countries have already singled out child trafficking as a particularly heinous crime that requires more stringent penalties. These countries have taken important steps to denounce the trafficking of children and to send a clear message that the law will protect the children and punish the perpetrators. The American Trafficking Victims Protection Act imposes a maximum penalty of 20 years for the offence of trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and a maximum of life imprisonment for the aggravated branch of that offence. A maximum of life imprisonment is imposed for trafficking children for the purposes of sexual exploitation with a minimum penalty of 15 years where the victim is under 14, and a minimum penalty of ten years where the victim is under 18.

In Australia, the federal criminal law imposes a maximum penalty of 12 years for the offence of trafficking in persons, 20 years for the aggravated offence and 25 years for trafficking in children. The United Kingdom imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years for the offence of trafficking in persons.

In 2005, Canada ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. Article 3(1) states that "Each state party shall make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account their grave nature."

Canada's current convictions do not reflect the severity of the crime or the sentences handed out to child traffickers in other countries. Right now, we have the opportunity to strengthen our existing provisions, in keeping with the responses of other countries if we support Bill C-268.

I will conclude by quoting Timea Nagy, a trafficking survivor now counselling other victims. She said:

"Trafficking drugs and guns get tougher sentences than trafficking a person. I truly believe that if it was your daughter, sister, you would also feel that something is wrong with that picture. You have a chance today to change that. We, as victims, and the police officers are relying on your decision today. Please give us hope and reasons to be brave and strong for giving a statement and testifying. Please reward the police officers who are doing a really hard work by giving them tougher laws to work with."

Timea asks the following questions:

What confidence can we offer trafficking victims, when there is no guarantee that their trafficker will receive any jail time at all?

Why would they dare come forward when the threat of further exploitation and abuse remains?

Let us answer these important questions by ensuring that traffickers of minors are appropriately punished for their crime. Let us answer these questions by supporting Bill C-268.

I ask all honourable senators to take to heart these profound words from someone who has suffered the effects of one of the worst crimes our society faces. I ask that we hear her plea to impose mandatory minimum penalties on the offence of trafficking of children.

I urge all honourable senators to help protect children from one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed against them and to join me in supporting Bill C-268."

(On motion of Senator Cools, debate adjourned.)

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