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Fighting Human Trafficking: One Law at a Time

By Joy Smith, B.Ed., M.Ed., Member of Parliament, Kildonan - St. Paul, Canada

Cancer InCytes Magazine - Volume 4, Issue 1, Summer 2015

Published July 23, 2015



Managing Editor: David H. Nguyen, Ph.D.

Cover Art: Ping Cao



MP Joy Smith made history with Bill C-268, the 15th PMB to change the Criminal Code since 1867, and Bill C-310, becoming the first Canadian MP in history to amend the Criminal Code twice. 



I was first drawn to the issue of human trafficking in Canada through the work of my son, who served in the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit (ICE). Overnight, I noticed a huge change in him; his hair turned grey and I could tell things weighed heavily on him. I was appalled to find out that children in Canada were being bought and sold in exchange for sex and money and even more horrified that this issue was completely off the public’s radar screen. As I became more aware of the magnitude of the scope of the problem, I realized this exploitation was happening in communities all across our nation. Gradually, I began working with victims of human trafficking and not only saw, but felt their pain and humiliation. Perpetrators used coercion and manipulation to gain control of these innocent victims. The victims were and are subjected to every imaginable sexual, physical and mental abuse; involuntary drug use and even threats against their families.



First Steps - Getting The Word Out

When I first came to Parliament in 2004, I wanted to stop the business of human trafficking. Unfortunately, I faced an uphill battle in trying to change the channel and focus Canadians' attention on this heinous crime happening in their own backyards. Few Parliamentarians were aware of the depth of this issue in Canada and struggled to believe that this was a reality in our nation…let alone one we had to confront. I began my work as a Member of Parliament (MP), to bring greater awareness about human trafficking in Canada and greater attention to what we must all do to stop it.


The first step in fighting this crime was calling on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to initiate a study of human trafficking in Canada. On Wed. Sept. 28, 2005, I first raised the need to address the sexual slavery occurring in North America. I presented this issue to the Committee to give voice to the thousands of women, both Canadian born and others arriving on Canadian soil from other countries, who suffered at the hands of human traffickers. 


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Turning Outrage into Action

My motion to study human trafficking in Canada was passed by the Committee on Thurs. Sept. 26, 2006 and the study then began on Oct. 3, 2006. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women’s February 2007 Report, “Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada”, was tabled in Parliament on Feb. 27, 2007. The key priorities of the report focused on the prevention of trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of offenders. This report prompted all parliamentarians, and all Canadians, to stand up for victims who are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, support the proposed recommendations and take whatever steps necessary to implement them. In March 2007, my motion M-153, which I introduced to the House of Commons in 2006, was unanimously passed, calling on the House of Commons that:


“The trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be condemned, and that the House call on the government to immediately adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide.”



Bill C-268

The passing of this motion led to my work on Bill C-268, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years), which I introduced in 2009. Canada’s Criminal Code currently provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the aggravated offence of living off the avails of prostitution of a person under the age of eighteen years. The trafficking of children is similar to this offence but often has much more severe consequences for the victim. Bill C-268 contains amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code to provide a five year minimum sentence for the trafficking of minors in Canada and a six year minimum sentence for cases involving aggravated offences like assault or death. In June 2010, the bill was passed and successfully amended Section 279.01 of Canada’s Criminal Code to create a new offence for child trafficking with a five-year mandatory penalty. This was only the 15th time in Canadian history that a Private Members Bill amended the Criminal Code.



National Action Plan

Despite the success of Bill C-268, I felt there was a gap and a need for a National Action Plan in Canada. So in 2010, I drafted a proposal titled, Connecting the Dots. This piece provided key recommendations that should be included in a National Action Plan, some of which included providing adequate funding for NGOs to deliver care, counselling, shelter and assistance to victims; developing policies and regulations to combat forced labour and child labour abroad; and creating regional human trafficking taskforces.


Following the release of Connecting the Dots, Canada’s first National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was drafted. It is a comprehensive blueprint to guide the fight against the serious crime of human trafficking in our nation. On June 6, 2012, Canada’s National Action Plan to combat the trafficking of persons was launched and it emphasized the need for awareness in vulnerable populations, support for victims, dedicated law enforcement efforts, and the need for all Canadians to prevent the trafficking of individuals. These new measures, totalling over $25 million over four years, builds on and strengthens Canada's significant work to date to prevent, detect and prosecute human trafficking, such as targeted training for law enforcement officials and front-line service providers, and enhanced public awareness measures. Canada's approach is guided by its international commitments contained in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and is organized around four pillars, namely: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.



M.P. Joy Smith, B.Ed, M.Ed

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Bill C-310             

With the National Action Plan now in place, my second Bill, C-310, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Trafficking in Persons), was introduced on October 3, 2011. This bill adds the current trafficking in persons offences [s.279.01, s.279.011, s.279.02 & s.279.03] to the current list of offences which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, could be prosecuted in Canada. The current list of extraterritorial offences includes serious crimes such as child sexual exploitation, hostage taking and terrorism. Extraterritorial laws refer to laws that a country will enact which regard an offence committed abroad as an offence committed within its borders. Canada has designated a number of serious Criminal Code offences as extraterritorial offences, especially those related to the sexual abuse of children by Canadian sex tourists. These can be found in Section 7.4 of the Criminal Code. Extraterritorial laws are guided by a number of principles under international law. 


Bill C-310 falls under the nationality principle, which is defined as: “States may assert jurisdiction over acts of their nationals, wherever the act might take place.” There are three purposes of designating Sections 279.01 - 279.03 as extraterritorial offences. The first is that an extraterritorial human trafficking offence will allow Canada to arrest Canadians who have left the country where they engaged in human trafficking in an attempt to avoid punishment. The second is that an extraterritorial human trafficking offence will ensure justice in cases where the offence was committed in a country without strong anti-human trafficking laws or judicial systems. Finally, an extraterritorial human trafficking offence will clearly indicate that Canada will not tolerate its own citizens engaging in human trafficking anywhere.


The second amendment of Bill C-310 enhances the current definition of exploitation in the trafficking in persons offence [s.279.04 of the Criminal Code]. Currently the definition does not provide specific examples of exploitive conduct. This amendment will add an evidentiary aid for the Court to provide clear examples of exploitation such as the use of threats, deception or abuse of power or authority. Examples of similar interpretive aids can be found in s.153 (1.2) and s.467.11 (3) of the Criminal Code. Overall, this Bill allows the long arm of the Canadian law into other countries by allowing Canadian police to go abroad, handcuff a Canadian citizen or permanent resident suspected of trafficking people, and bring the suspect back to Canada for trial. 


There was overwhelming support for Bill C-310 from law enforcement, victims’ services, First Nations representatives, and religious and secular non-governmental organizations. Bill C-310 received Royal Assent and became law on June 28, 2012.


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Target The Market

In 2013, I started to develop a “target the market” approach in Canada, which would bring the perpetrators of sex trafficking to justice and eliminate the demand for sex. The men and women who prey on innocent victims create a market that buys and sells our youth today in Canada. Men who pay to use the bodies of these young people fuel the profit and demand for this modern day slavery that is happening right here in our own communities. Countries such as Norway and Sweden have made substantive progress toward eliminating human trafficking by targeting the market, eliminating the demand, supporting victims, and placing the ownership for these crimes on the perpetrators. Canada needed a “target the market” model so that our youth are no longer bought and sold.


On February 13, 2014, I released “The Tipping Point”, a report I have developed in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. This ruling left our country at a tipping point and we had to ensure that our nation’s response decisively protects women and communities for generations to come.


I prepared “The Tipping Point” to provide Canadians with an idea of how the Nordic Model of prostitution functions and successfully provides the tools to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation of women and youth. This report also made recommendations on how Canada could adopt a made-in-Canada version of the Nordic Model.


June 4, 2014, was a historic day for Canada! Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, was introduced by Justice Minister Peter MacKay in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Canada v. Bedford. Under Bill C-36, for the first time in Canada’s history, the buying of sexual services would be illegal, prostituted/trafficked women would not be treated as a nuisance but treated with dignity, and the government of Canada would provide robust funding to help women and youth escape prostitution. Johns arrested for purchasing or attempting to purchase sex will face stiff fines and/or jail time. Bill C-36 also strengthens offences targeting pimps and traffickers. And it would criminalize the advertising of the sexual services of others. This is a blow to the many brothels masquerading as massage parlours that saturate our communities. We had turned a corner in the fight to end human trafficking and prostitution. 


Over the next ten months, I would work closely with the government, NGOs, survivors and law enforcement in the development and adoption of Bill C-36.


On December 6, 2014, Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, Bill C-36 came into force. 


Ending human trafficking cannot be done with legislation alone – this is a task that must be embraced by society as a whole. We must continue to educate and encourage citizens to speak up, to consider their words and actions, and to engage others. A nation in which human trafficking is no longer tolerated will take a long-term commitment and continuous action – but it is possible.



About The Author

Member of Parliament Joy Smith holds a Master's Degree (M.Ed.) in education and was a teacher in Manitoba for 23 years. MP Joy Smith is recognized as a leading Canadian anti-human trafficking advocate and has united Canadians from coast to coast in the fight against modern day slavery. Since being elected in 2004, she has worked with leaders at the federal and international levels to advance legislation and initiatives to combat modern day slavery and provide assistance to survivors. MP Smith has passed two Bills that made Canadian history: Bill C-268 that created tough child trafficking penalties and Bill C-310 which allows Canada to arrest Canadians if they engage in human trafficking abroad. She also worked with the Minister of Justice in the development and passage of Bill C-36, which overhauled Canada’s approach to prostitution by targeting sex buyers instead of prostituted women.


MP Smith did not seek re-election in 2015 in order to devote her full efforts to the Joy Smith Foundation, which raises awareness about human trafficking and support for victims. 


Over her 11 years as a Member of Parliament, Joy Smith has also received numerous prestigious awards for her work including the United Nations Women Canada Recognition of Achievement Award, the Wilberforce Award, and the Ceremonial Red Shawl from Canada’s First Nations people – making her an honorary chief.

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