London

Scheer presents Conservative plan to fight 'evil scourge' of human trafficking

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising funding for police, survivor services and public awareness to combat human trafficking.

Andrew Scheer says Liberals haven't made human trafficking a priority, Goodale points to plan in budget

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made a campaign-style appearance at a farm near Aylmer, Ont., that provides equine therapy for clients who've suffered trauma, including victims of human trafficking. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising funding for police, survivor services and public awareness to fight human trafficking as he continues laying planks in his campaign platform.

The previous Conservative government created a four-year strategy to combat human trafficking in 2012. It expired in 2016, shortly after the Liberals took office. Scheer pledged Wednesday to revive it and made other promises to make up a four-point plan that is already facing criticism from the Liberals.

"Human trafficking exploits the most vulnerable populations in Canada," said Scheer. "Every victim deserves support and protection." 

Scheer put forward the following proposals to target human traffickers: 

  • Renew the national action plan to combat human trafficking. 
     
  • Update the Criminal Code to reflect the international definition of human trafficking in the Palermo Protocol. Scheer said the current definition of human trafficking requires the Crown to prove an element of fear was present. "This stands in contradiction of the internationally accepted definition in the Palermo Protocol," reads a backgrounder distributed at Scheer's announcement. 
     
  • Ensure human traffickers serve consecutive sentences for each of their convictions. "I will not tell a survivor that the horror inflicted on them doesn't count because their perpetrator is already serving time for having done it to someone else," said Scheer. 
     
  • End automatic bail for those charged with human trafficking offences. Although there is no "automatic bail" in Canadian law, a Conservative party backgrounder says they idea is to "put the safety and well-being of victims ahead of those who traffic them." 

Scheer announced his plan at a campaign-style event on farm near Aylmer, Ont., which provides equine therapy for trauma victims, including those who've experienced human trafficking. 

"For the last three and a half years, human traffickers have received the message that fighting their crimes is not a priority," Scheer said. 

The Public Safety Department says human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, typically involving the use of physical or psychological control over people to exploit them sexually or for labour.

It can be difficult for police to catch traffickers because victims are often moved away from their homes and social networks and kept isolated and fearful, and sometimes have drug addictions or illnesses from long-term trauma.

The farm where Scheer made his announcement is close to Highway 401, a route police describe as a key corridor where trafficking victims — mainly young women — are often transported by criminals between southern Ontario communities and forced into sex work. 

Police have said victims are often forced to work out of motels and hotels located near Hwy. 401. The victims are often moved frequently as a way to prevent them from accessing help.

'An evil scourge'

Scheer said he met last year with Megan Walker of the London Abused Women's Shelter and learned about the toll human trafficking is taking in southwestern Ontario. 

"I was inspired by the strength and courage of the survivors who have overcome unspeakable horrors," he said. "Human trafficking is an evil scourge in our nation that must be stopped." 

He said Indigenous Canadians represent half of all victims, although they make up only about  four per cent of Canada's population.

When asked about the funding for Scheer's plan, his press secretary provided a statement that says it will be "appropriately funded" to give experts and existing groups "the necessary tools to do this work." Under the previous Conservative government, the program cost about $5 million per year, the statement said. 

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced his party's plan to fight human trafficking at a campaign style stop in Aylmer, Ont., close to Highway 401. Police say the highway is a key corridor in human trafficking in southern Ontario. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Liberals respond

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office released a statement shortly after Scheer's announcement, noting the 2019 federal budget included a promise to develop a whole-of-government strategy to combat human trafficking.

Goodale's statement says the previous Conservative government didn't provide any money for the Harper-era strategy — though the 2019 budget also doesn't have any funding tied to the promised Liberal strategy.

The Liberals are spending $14.5 million over five years on a hotline to let people report tips to law enforcement, refer victims and survivors to services, and collect more data about the scope of human trafficking in Canada.

As for Scheer's pledge to strengthen Criminal Code wording to ease the path to convictions, similar wording exists in a Liberal bill that is being reviewed by a Senate committee, Goodale's statement said. 

The RCMP's human trafficking co-ordination centre says that between 2005 and 2018, the Mounties identified 531 cases where human trafficking charges were laid. Of those cases, 143 resulted in convictions and 316 remain before the courts.

With files from CBC News

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.