Friday, April 30, 2010

Liberal Senator Asking Tough -- But Wise -- Questions About Human Trafficking Bill

Unlike other critics, Lilian Eva Dyck could improve the bill

Unlike some other individuals who have opposed Bill C-258 -- Conservative MP Joy Smith's bill to impose mandatory minimum sentences on the human trafficking of children -- Liberal Senator Lilian Eva Dyck has raised some very reasonable concerns about the bill.

"While I agree that we do need such a bill, and while I believe that the intentions of the bill are laudable, Bill C-268 will not have any real impact on preventing child trafficking unless it is amended to incorporate tougher penalties and defines the criminal offence specifically as trafficking of minors for commercial sexual exploitation," Dyck recently told the Senate.

Dyck is precisely right about the length of the mandatory minimum sentence imposed by the bill -- five years is actually far too short. (A case clearly exists against Dyck's second suggestion. Conservsely, the bill should define the trafficking of a human being for the purpose of sexual exploitation as a criminal offense, with separate sentencing provisions for cases where the victim is a child defined within the bill.)

The issue of human trafficking is important however, and as Dyck points out, the links between the sex trade and human trafficking must be addressed.

"Honourable senators, there are basically two types of human trafficking," Dyck explained. "People are trafficked to work in the sex trade or other forms of servitude, such as domestic labourers, agricultural workers, hotel or restaurant workers, or other forms of servitude. Sex trafficking, or trafficking of persons specifically for the purpose of sexual exploitation, is the most common type of trafficking. In fact, the US Department of State estimates that 80 per cent of all victims of international human trafficking are forced into the commercial sex industry."

Smith suggested that the bill should be amended to match the mandatory minimum sentence in the United States.

"I think we all agree that Bill C-268 ought to be passed but, unless we strengthen it by setting a minimum sentence of ten years to match the American legislation, how can we expect to stop American traffickers who are next door to us from setting up shop here in Canada?" Dyck asked.

(Some would actually argue that the American mandatory minimum sentence itself is too lenient -- a mandatory life sentence would be more appropriate.)

But as Dyck points out -- and Smith would agree -- additional protections for children must become a goal of this bill.

"The vast majority of children are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation," Dyck said. "Everyone agrees that trafficking of minors for commercial sexual exploitation is heinous. It is a despicable act that should be punished severely. The US Department of State estimates that 80 per cent of all victims of international human trafficking are forced into the commercial sex industry. In most circumstances, children under the age of 18 are channelled into the sex trade industry and, because of this, child trafficking is considered one of the worst manifestations of human trafficking."

Moreover, Dyck suggests that Smith's bill doesn't pay sufficient attention to human trafficking for the purpose of slavery. Nor does it recognize the differences between human trafficking for the purpose of slavery and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

"Virtually every email message and letter that we received about Bill C-268 mentions the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation," Dyck explains. "None, however, mention trafficking for forced labour. Trafficking for forced labour is not mentioned on the main page of Joy Smith's website, and she spoke almost exclusively about the trafficking of women and children, using examples of sex trafficking. There was very little mention of trafficking for forced labour in her speeches and letters."

Unlike some other critics of the bill, for whom an ideological opposition to the notion of mandatory minimum sentences was the animating motivation for their opposition, Dyck has at the forefront of her mind the protection of children from the sex trade.

"Though the horrific stories of child trafficking victims evoke deep emotional responses, we cannot let emotion outweigh reason," Dyck announced. "I fear that the bill in its present form will not do justice to children because it does not address sex trafficking directly. Most children are trafficked for victimization and commercial sex trade, but Bill C-268 does not differentiate between children trafficked for exploitation in the sex trade and those trafficked for forced labour. These two forms of trafficking are not equivalent; they are significantly different. A child trafficked to work in the commercial sex trade is in a far worse situation than a child forced to work as a labourer in a hotel, restaurant, agricultural industry or other type of servitude."

These are certainly tough concerns to raise about the bill. But they also raise important concerns regarding the bill itself, and don't detract from the ultimate end: toughening Canada's criminal justice system to properly deal with the atrocious crime of human trafficking -- unlike the objections raised by individuals like Libby Davies.

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