Human trafficking law starts from scratch, without tougher sentencing provisions

The Liberal government has retabled legislation to clamp down on human trafficking — nearly two years after a previous bill passed in Parliament but was never brought into force.

Conservatives accuse government of giving perpetrators of 'unspeakable crimes' a break

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has retabled legislation to crack down on human trafficking, but the new bill excludes consecutive sentencing provisions. (Canadian Press)

The Liberal government has retabled legislation to clamp down on human trafficking — nearly two years after a previous bill passed in Parliament but was never brought into force.

But the new bill, which will start from scratch in the legislative process, will exclude the tougher sentencing provisions in the original legislation.

According to background material provided by the government, the consecutive sentencing requirement was removed because it could result in "disproportionately lengthy sentences" when combined with other penalties for human trafficking offences.

"There is a significant risk that this could amount to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," the government briefing reads.

The sentencing provision in the former bill, which required judges to impose consecutive sentences for other offences related to the trafficking events, will be considered as part of a broader review of the criminal justice system, including mandatory minimum sentences, by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Law never brought into force

Bill C-452 was a private member's bill from former MP Maria Mourani and received royal assent in June 2015, but was never brought into force before Parliament was dissolved in 2015 for the election, or after.

The bill contained a provision that it would be in force by an order in council, or decision by cabinet, rather than on a specific date.

The new legislation tabled today, Bill C-38, aims to reduce the likelihood that victims of trafficking would have to testify in court, puts the onus on a convicted offender to prove their property is not proceeds of crime, and makes it easier for the state to seize the proceeds of crime.

"What we sought to do was to support the reintroduction of this piece of legislation, ensuring that it is charter compliant, and in doing so, providing additional tools for law enforcement and prosecutors to make it more easy to be able to prosecute in this area," Wilson-Raybould told CBC News in an interview.

'This is unbelievable'

But Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson accused the government of giving a "break" to human traffickers who commit multiple crimes.

"This is unbelievable," he said during question period in the House of Commons. "This bill says people convicted of human trafficking will not have to serve consecutive sentences when they commit additional unspeakable crimes against victims. Why is it that the Liberals are always so worried about giving a break to criminals? Why don't they start sticking up for the victims for a change?"

Human trafficking can include forced labour, forced prostitution and other sex-related work.

According to the government background material, the bill will:

  • Help prosecutors prove one of the elements of the trafficking offence, that the accused exercised control, direction or influence over the movements of a victim, by establishing that the accused lived with or was habitually in the company of an exploited person.
  • Put the onus on offenders convicted of human trafficking offences to prove that their property is not proceeds of crime in certain circumstances.
  • Correct a technical discrepancy between the English and French definitions of the term exploitation for the purposes of the human trafficking offences.

Former Conservative MP Joy Smith, who pushed two laws on human trafficking in Parliament, said removing the consecutive sentencing provisions reflects a "philosophical change" by the Liberal government that puts offender rights ahead of the victims. She said the bill was already scrutinized for constitutionality and approved by MPs from all political camps.

"To gut it and start over again, they will wind up with a piece of paper, not an effective bill in any way, shape or form," she told CBC News.

With files from Alison Crawford