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The Hon. Joan  Fraser, B.A. Senator Joan Fraser is well-known to Canadians as a journalist and commentator. Appointed to the Senate on September 17, 1998, by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien, Senator Joan Fraser represents the province of Quebec and the Senatorial Division of De Lorimier.

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Third 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)

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Statement made on 15 June 2010 by Senator Jane Cordy

Hon. Jane Cordy:

Honourable senators, I had not planned to speak to this bill. However, after Bill C-268 passed the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, I put forward observations that I felt would allow for better enforcement of the bill. We can have all the legislation in the world, but if we do not provide the resources to catch the perpetrators, then the bill will not do much good.

The committee heard that only a small percentage of perpetrators of the crime of trafficking of persons under the age of 18 are actually convicted. Since the observations put forward by Senator Dyck and myself were voted down unanimously by the majority Conservatives on the committee, I would like to take this opportunity to put the observations on the record.

There are some good things that have been happening in the field of trafficking of humans. Since 2004, there has been an interdepartmental working group on trafficking in persons. It is comprised of 17 federal departments and agencies. In 2005, the RCMP established the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre.

Human trafficking is often described as the modern day form of slavery. It exploits people — usually sexual exploitation or forced labour. Trafficking may occur either across borders or indeed it happens within Canada, as we have heard of many such cases across the country.

In 2005, three trafficking-specific indictable offences were added to the Criminal Code. Section 279.01 specifically prohibits trafficking in persons and imposes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment where kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or death to the victim is involved, and 14 years in all other cases. These penalties are the most serious maximum penalties contained in the Criminal Code.

We heard at committee that since 2007 there have been five cases where convictions have been secured under the Criminal Code — all were as a result of guilty pleas. Will Bill C-268 mean more convictions? I want to believe so, but I am not sure that mandatory sentencing has been proven to work. Police forces need more resources, information and data to gain a better understanding of human trafficking in Canada.

That was why I recommended the committee attach an observation to the bill for more resources to be given to the RCMP to ensure they can reduce, and eventually stop, trafficking of young persons.

Julie McAuley, from Statistics Canada, told the committee that there is a lack of comprehensive, reliable and comparable data on human trafficking. We do not know whether incidents of trafficking are increasing or decreasing. She stated that because of the clandestine nature of the crime, Statistics Canada is almost limited to the police laying a charge to identify a case as human trafficking.

That is why I recommended resources be given to the RCMP to help prevent and apprehend those trafficking persons under the age of 18. Honourable senators, what is the point of enacting legislation if we do not provide the resources? I recommended it as an observation, not an amendment, so the bill could be sent back to the Senate chamber.

The trafficking of persons is a horrific crime. When the trafficking involves younger persons, it is even worse. When honourable senators hear some of the stories of what has happened to young people, it makes one's stomach turn. We all want those who are found guilty to be punished severely because of what the crime does to victims, many of whom are the most vulnerable members of our society.

Honourable senators, I want to thank Joy Smith for the work she has done in combating human trafficking. I also want to take the opportunity to thank Senator Gerard "Jigger" Phalen who previously brought forward a bill on human trafficking.

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