Why is the Trudeau government failing to combat growing human trafficking problem?

While the number of traffickers has been on the decline since 2014, the number of trafficked persons has increased.

Alex Singh Dhaliwal Montreal QC

When everyday Canadians are told modern slavery remains a global phenomenon, they would likely refer to cases like Libya and its handling of Nigerian refugees or rural India, where modern slavery is most apparent.

However, when Canadians are told we have a problem with such in our own backyard, many would come across as shocked, unaware that human trafficking is indeed on the rise in 2019 Canada.

Instead of sensationalizing issues that are relative nonstarters like gun control, abortion laws, the impending ‘climate crisis,’ or even fears our healthcare will be ‘Americanized,’ perhaps, we should focus on issues that affect our most vulnerable, in the flesh. Today and now.

Blame transcends partisan lines on many prominent issues—as everyone bears some of the burdens for policy failures—but in the case of the NAP and Bill C-75, that does not stand.

In 2011, the Conservative Party of Canada pledged to tackle human trafficking, creating the National Action Plan on June 6th, 2012. It assembled “Canada’s first integrated law enforcement team(s) dedicated to combating human trafficking in Canada and abroad.”

While it was not without its flaws (i.e. need to combat implicit bias of police, need for more frontline services, etc.), it took viable first steps in tackling a severely underreported issue.

Unfortunately, the Liberal Party of Canada failed to extend NAP in March 2016 and proved inept in their ‘efforts’ to develop and implement a replacement plan. It remains a mystery as to why nothing was done to combat what should otherwise be a multi-partisan issue.

What wasn’t a mystery, however, was the fact over 50% of human trafficking cases between 2009-2016 occurred in the last two years, with 93% of victims coming from within Canada and 75% of those being forced into the industry as minors.

50% of such victims were young Indigenous women.

Perplexing were the findings of the 2016-2017 Horizontal Evaluation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which called for the renewal of NAP and the need for increased intergovernmental cooperation to effectively handle that which the Liberal government conveniently ignored.

Human trafficking is defined as “the illegal recruitment, transportation or hiding someone for the purpose of exploiting them.”

While the number of traffickers has been on the decline since 2014, the number of trafficked persons has increased.

Predominantly, the victims have been Indigenous women from lower socio-economic standing, those who experienced family violence, childhood abuse, lower education levels and the intergenerational effects of the Residential School System.

Yes, 4.9% of the population are amongst Canada’s most vulnerable in the prostitution rings run by “pimps” and “madams” across the country. These criminals employ a pretense of companionship to lure vulnerable Canadians into a process police call “grooming.”

Instead of building off the NAP, providing support, housing, and trauma counselling for the victims, trafficked persons are left without help, undermining prior claims of the Liberal’s “compassion-driven” policies.

Instead of implementing legislation that maintains an acceptable standard of prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership, none which has occurred, victims of human trafficking have been left without the help they so desperately need.

On Wednesday, May 15th, the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs voted on Bill C-75, which called for the hybridization of section 279.02(1) material benefits for human trafficking and section 286.2(1) material benefits for sexual services.

The group of 12 Senators voted to amend the above “indictable offences” into hybrid offences. Before the vote, each offense called for a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for convicted human traffickers, but now, those found guilty face no jail time at all and a meagre $5,000.00 fine.

To put things into perspective, a $5,000.00 fine accounts for only 1.6% of the potential profit a trafficker makes from trafficking one individual, which amounts to $300,000 per annum.

TPM Exclusive with MP Arnold Viersen

Launched in 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking was dealt a severe blow in its efforts to combat the scourge that is human trafficking. Unfortunately, a notably partisan divide amongst the twelve senators demonstrated the common good—and what is moral and what is just—plays second fiddle to partisan politics, when deemed ‘appropriate’ to do so.

Arnold Viersen, a Conservative MP for the riding of Peace River-Westlock, spoke to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the implications of Bill C-75, if passed by APPG. He says, “[having] reviewed the amendments proposed by C-75 around human trafficking [we have] serious concerns about the consequences of such amendments.”

“In considering the extreme violence and degradation and torture that these victims of human trafficking often endure, the punishment proposed for the offences [under 279.02(1) and 286.2(1)] does not correlate with the crime.”

The Post Millennial was able to correspond with Viersen, one of the Co-Chairs of the APPG to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, on that state of human trafficking in Canada today.

TPM: With the LPC failing to extend the National Action Plan in March 2016, ultimately “scratching the surface” on the human trafficking trade in Canada, what can they do to deter human traffickers from partaking in what has been deemed “low-risk” crime with “high financial payoff?” What does this do for their campaign promise in tackling Reconciliation?

Viersen: One of the primary ways the LPC could have tackled the lucrative human trafficking taking place in Canada is by focussing on the demand. In 2014, the Conservative government passed Bill C-36 that implemented the Nordic model of prostitution in Canada. It removed criminality from prostituted women and placed it on sex buyers, who create the demand for sex trafficking and make it so incredibly profitable.

Research has shown that legalization/decriminalization increases sex trafficking, particularly of minors and those most vulnerable. Whereas, the Nordic model offers a three-pronged approach that tackles the demand, educates society about the harms of prostitution and provides assistance to prostituted individuals who wish to escape.  Interestingly, the Nordic model is being adopted across Europe by left-leaning, feminist governments, and in Canada, they oppose it.

Secondly, the Liberals could have immediately brought into force Bill C-452 which, in addition to the consecutive sentences the Liberals opposed, contained two important tools that police and prosecutors have been missing for four years now.

If the LPC were genuinely concerned about reconciliation, they would focus on reducing the demand for trafficked Indigenous women and girls instead of turning a blind eye.

TPM: Proposed by a former NDP MP, Bill C-452 has attractive amendments that would have ultimately strengthened the National Action Plan and its tackling of human trafficking; therefore, do you believe the LPC’s failure to extend it was out of ignorance or, perhaps, indicative of their desire to cover up the good the CPC achieved in the Harper years?

Viersen: The LPC’s failure to extend the National Action Plan is mostly a result of fighting human trafficking just not being a priority for them. If you look at what the CPC accomplished just during their 4-year majority term, it’s a stark comparison to the hands-off approach the Liberals have taken. The only thing the Liberals have done to combat human trafficking is to fund a national hotline in their final year, and that was the result of the US shaming them into it.

TPM: If the amendments proposed by Bill C-75 are legislated, what does that say to the LPC’s efforts to combat gender-based violence, especially in the Me Too era?

Viersen: I think this is best expressed by the May 8 testimony to the Senate Legal Affairs Committee on Bill C-75 by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Heidi Illingworth:

“I am concerned with where the bill proposes to hybridize offences related to forced marriage, child abduction and some offences related to human trafficking. These offences, primarily committed against women and children, should not be of lesser concern. They constitute a grave violation of human rights, including the rights of women and children to live free from coercive control and violence. The serious nature and harm caused by these offences must be recognized this our laws and policies.”

TPM: Human trafficking is often described as a “modern form of slavery,” and with Indigenous Women overrepresented as victims, how do we convince the said victims to come forward and seek justice, given that structures of colonialism remain?

Viersen: Victims of human trafficking need to have confidence that when they come forward, their trafficker will both be convicted and receive significant jail time. As noted in the Bill C-75 brief submitted by the APPG to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking:

“The loss of consecutive sentences will also be a contributing factor to victims continued reluctance to come forward and report a crime. It is an established fact that victims are often uncooperative with human trafficking investigations, primarily due to the immense fear and psychological control that traffickers have over their victims.7 If traffickers found guilty of numerous trafficking offences are only held accountable for one victim in sentencing and no sentencing for all other offences, victims, who already are fearful to come forward to report such crimes, will be further reluctant to come forward. They will recognize that the result of their reporting, which puts them at high risk of real harm from their perpetrators, could serve no real purpose.

Indigenous women are also over-represented in the human trafficking industry and coupled with systemic racism and judicial discretion, and the amendments will specifically contribute to their continued disadvantaged position in the criminal justice system.”

TPM: How do we combat the systematic discrimination in the judicial and police systems to improve trust between Indigenous bands and the various branches of government?

Viersen: Education and awareness of human trafficking among communities, law enforcement and the judicial system are important. Many organizations have called for mandatory training for judges on human trafficking and its impact on vulnerable communities like indigenous communities. It is also important for men and boys to develop healthy attitudes about women and girls, and it is great to see indigenous leadership on this through campaigns like the Moose Hide Campaign.

TPM: How do you account for the recent uptick in human trafficking victims, despite the decline in human traffickers? 50% of reported cases between 2009-2016 occurred between 2015-2016, to put things into perspective.

Viersen: I believe a significant part of this is due to the training of law enforcement to recognize human trafficking as well as the launch of counter-human trafficking units during this time by police services across Canada.

TPM: With only 136 of 531 trafficking cases since 2005, resulting in a successful conviction, is there an amendment you’d implement to counteract the said implicit bias and racial stereotyping?

Viersen: Yes, one of the most challenging parts of the Canadian human trafficking offences is the bar set in the definition of exploitation in s.279.04. It requires a victim to possess a fear for their safety or the safety of another. Many cases of trafficking involving the psychological manipulation/deception of victims to think that their trafficker is their boyfriend or lover. So there is no presence of fear, and this makes it difficult for police to lay charges and proceed with an investigation or secure a conviction if they do proceed. The international Palermo Protocol convention does not require victims to possess a type of fear.

TPM: What was the rationale behind hybridizing subsections 279.02(1), 279.03(1), and 286.2(1)?

Viersen: The Liberal Government wanted to streamline the judicial system by hybridizing a significant number of indictable offences to include summary convictions as an option. However, there are a number of offences that are serious violent offences that should never include a summary option. Traffickers that make $300,000 a year selling women and girls should not be able to walk away with a $5000 fine. Hybridizing these offences also increases the likelihood that a human trafficking offence against an Indigenous woman would likely proceed as a summary conviction offence, further denying them justice as their offenders often receive lesser sentence then if the victim was a non-indigenous female.

TPM: What does the elimination of Bill C-452’s consecutive sentences, and per Bill C-75, the lack of jail time for convicted offenders tell to the victims, our allies in Canada and to our international commitment to combating this “horrific and brutal crime?”

Viersen: The elimination of consecutive sentences tells them that the Canadian government doesn’t recognize the gravity of human trafficking and the devastating impact it has on its victims.Further that the Canadian government is more concerned about the rights of traffickers than it is of the victims.

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