Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 78

Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking Bill

Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Phalen, seconded by the Honourable Senator Day, for the second reading of Bill S-222, to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to enact certain other measures, in order to provide assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking.—(Honourable Senator Moore)

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Phalen’s Bill S-222, to provide assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking. I commend Senator Phalen for his hard work on the issue of human trafficking. I believe it is one of the most important issues we face in Canada, and Senator Phalen’s effort is a great example of what those of us here in the Senate can do.

As we sit here in the chamber, we may think our laws say to the victims, “Come report the crime; we will help you; we will give you safety,” but this is not reality.

During last session of Parliament, I sponsored Bill C-49, which amended the Criminal Code to create an offence of human trafficking. At the time, I told you about an experience I had in Abuja, Nigeria. I would like to take a moment to repeat that story because, for me, it is what puts the human face on the problem.

While I was in Abuja, Nigeria, the High Commissioner, David Angel, arranged for me to visit a detention facility where they were holding a group of 12 little Nigerian girls. The youngest was nine years old, and the oldest was probably no more than 13 years of age. They had been intercepted at the airport in the process of being trafficked to Europe. These young girls had been told that they were going to receive an education and a better life. Their real destination was a brothel in Europe. These brothels thrive on human trafficking, constantly bringing in new young girls to subject to rape and exploitation. It was truly sad to look into the innocent eyes of these young girls who were now left with nowhere to go but a detention facility. Their lives were left in limbo as a result of the lies they had been told. These girls were lucky, though. For every one of those girls, thousands elude the notice of authorities.

Honourable senators, we must ask: Who are the trafficking victims? They are the marginalized and the disenfranchised, the vulnerable persons in any society.

This is not a problem that is limited to far-off or developing nations. The demand side of trafficking is in the industrialized world. The consumer culture in our Western society creates a demand for such exploitation and sends a false message to those exploited about the kind of life they will have. Major sports and cultural events within the industrialized world have fuelled the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation in the industrial world.

Honourable senators, it is our responsibility to stop human trafficking. Bill C-49 and the CIC guidelines have attempted to lay out the way in which this country is dealing with human trafficking. However, what they say happens and what actually happens to real people are two very different things.

Over the past months, I have met with a number of NGOs and faith-based groups, as well as the RCMP and local police officers. I have asked them how are the victims really being treated. Are the guidelines operating smoothly within CIC, CBSA and RCMP and local police offices? Are we all working as a team? I received the answers, and, unfortunately, the picture is not pretty. Today, I will relate to you what I have heard in the past few months.

In meeting with the RCMP, the NGOs, local police and faith-based groups, I can see that, although we all want to help, we are not one team. Each group seems to have its own task to accomplish, each important but not in harmony with the overall task of helping the victim.

The victims are afraid to come forward; their trust has been broken. They have been abandoned in our country with no documentation, trapped as prey in the hands of traffickers. Their spirits have been broken by the slavery they barely lived through.

Luckily, some victims do come forward, but our laws do not make it easy for these victims. Our laws say to the victims of trafficking, “Convince us that you are not an economic refugee or migrant.” We ask the victims to provide proof that they have been trafficked. We ask the victims to be willing to participate in the prosecution of the people who destroyed their lives and who they had started to trust. We tell them that if they can do all of the above, they will be allowed to stay in our country for 120 days before we send them home. CIC calls these days of reflection. If the victim can convince us further, we might allow her to have permanent residence in our country.

Honourable senators, we have to ask ourselves how convinced we would be to come forward and who we would trust. We need to work with and learn from the men and women who work to combat human trafficking. These people know how to deal with the problems involved with human trafficking. The NGOs and faith-based groups are reluctant to tell the victims to go to the authorities because they do not have faith in our system. They have seen our system in action. Here is an example of what they have seen.

Recently, in the Vancouver area, local police enforcement, seeking a joint operation, approached an NGO that provided women with immigrant services. The police believed that they had found a massage parlour with trafficked victims. The NGOs said they would be willing to assist, with the proviso that the women would not be handcuffed or charged. The trafficked persons were to be taken out of the massage parlour and handed over to the NGO to provide counselling. The trafficked persons were taken out of the massage parlour in public, and they were not handed over to the NGOs to provide counselling. At first glance, we may say that, finally, a working relationship has been struck to make a change in order to help the victims. Sadly, the promises made to the NGOs were broken, and publicly the women were handcuffed and arrested. Once again, the victim was punished.

Here is another example in Vancouver from this month. There was a major bust in a trafficking ring in Vancouver. The pimp was said to be one of the worst operators in the area. Seven women between the ages of their early twenties to their early thirties were taken out of the bawdy house where they were forced to service an estimated 150 johns a month. The police observed 20 men in one two-hour period being serviced in this bawdy house. The police did not arrest the men who were going into the bawdy house; instead, they arrested the victims. The eight victims were taken directly to the airport, issued detention orders and returned to their countries.

Honourable senators, please do not misunderstand me. I am delighted there is a system of collaboration in Vancouver, but, obviously, somewhere along the way, the lines of communication and respect have not been properly built. Contrary to what we have set out to accomplish in Bill C-49, the victims are not believed, are deported for being in Canada illegally and are sent back to their families without consent only to face a life of scorn.

I know honourable senators will agree with me that there is something wrong with the way in which we deal with human trafficking. We need to take strong actions to deal with the trafficked persons as a first priority. The men, women and children who are brought here for the purpose of exploitation as labour workers, sex workers, or for any other purpose, are victims. Their lives have been torn to shreds. Many cannot return home for the shame of what has happened. They have been severely traumatized, beaten, threatened and forced into slavery. What we started in Bill C-49 is not enough. Bill S-222 is the next step in this journey.

Under Bill S-222, victims would receive the ability to heal with the help of a 24-hour hotline, with counselling in their language. They would be provided access to information they can understand, enabling them to make sensitive decisions about their future in an effort to move on from the past. In addition, the public awareness campaign would educate our citizens about this global problem, helping to identify potential victims and at long last accepting the fact that we are a nation of consumers in this trafficking business.

Once a victim has come forward, they would be entitled to medical coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program, providing physical healing. Following the initial 120-day temporary resident permit, a longer permit — the victim protection permit — would allow for work permits to be issued and an application for permanent residence. The current 120-day period is insufficient. How can anyone be expected to build understanding of their situation and trust in a new country in such a short period? Often, those trafficked are kept from the outside world precisely because those exploiting them need their dependence. Some develop sympathy with the ones exploiting them simply because they do not know anyone else. No other support system exists for them. The victim protection permit would allow time for the victim to earn income and set down roots in our country. Canada will respect the victims in word and in deed and allow them to restore their lost dignity.

It is my firm belief that there needs to be a consultation jointly between the NGOs, RCMP, local police and faith-based groups in order to develop a program of systems to help the victims and stop trafficking. However, Bill S-222 is where we need to begin. Perhaps then the victims would be more willing to come forward. Perhaps then the NGOs, faith-based groups and shelter workers would be willing to tell the victims to come forward.

Honourable senators, I think back again to my young friends at the holding facility in Abuja — the human face of this growing problem — and wonder how they would have been treated if they had been in Canada. Would these young children also have been given 120 days to reflect on their future before they were sent back?

Even with the changes we made last year in Bill C-49 to recognize and criminalize human trafficking, the victims today continue to suffer. With Bill S-222, I could least see these young girls I was talking about in Abuja recognized as the victims that they are.

Honourable senators, we live in the most wonderful country in this world. We must now develop new kinds of understanding to help these victims to heal their wounds, to find honest work and, most of all, to regain their dignity. I urge all honourable senators to support this vision of Canada and, once again, thank Senator Phalen for bringing forward this bill, which will help to make it possible.

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I wish to thank Senator Jaffer for a very good speech. Upon reflection, and while listening to her comments, I realized that the second speaker from our side had not taken the full 45 minutes for the speech. Would this chamber accept the long-standing convention that the second speaker be allowed 45 minutes and that the speech just given by the second speaker will not be counted as constituting part of the 45 minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.