Tories target human trafficking in campaign

The federal government is partnering with Crime Stoppers to enlist the Canadian public's help in detecting and reporting signs of potential human trafficking.

The federal government is partnering with Crime Stoppers to enlist the Canadian public's help in detecting and reporting signs of potential human trafficking.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says law enforcement officials need Canadians to be aware of the signs of human trafficking. ((CBC))
The announcement Tuesday by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews comes in the wake of last month's arrival of the MK Sun Sea, a ship carrying hundreds of Tamil migrants, in British Columbia.

Toews said that by exposing the reality of the "disturbing" crime of human trafficking, the "Blue Blindfold" campaign will give Canadians a better understanding of how to detect it and report suspicious activity.

While Toews acknowledged the Sun Sea was a case of human smuggling, not trafficking, he noted that smuggling sometimes turns to trafficking if those being transported are unable to make payment.

While human smuggling involves the illegal movement of people across international borders for payment, trafficking includes an additional element of exploitation — usually in the form of forced labour, prostitution and other forms of servitude — and usually involves threats or the use of force.

Toews said most human trafficking victims are women and children from Asia, who are often forced into the sex trade.

"Most are women and children and their cases often go unnoticed and unreported due to threats from offenders, language barriers or mistrust of authorities," he said.

CBC News has learned that Toews is also expected to present Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet with a list of legal options later this week on how to target human smugglers.

The Conservative government has been floating the idea of new laws since the arrival of the Sun Sea in Victoria on Aug. 12. All 492 people on board have requested refugee status in Canada.

Toews said there was "certainly a possibility" of other vessels from Sri Lanka coming to Canada and reiterated investigators' suspicion that the Sun Sea was a "test ship" to gauge the Canadian government's response.

Kenney calls for minimum sentences for smugglers

Migrants are escorted from the MV Sun Sea after the vessel arrived at CFB Esquimalt in British Columbia last month.
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Parliament needs to consider minimum jail sentences for human smugglers to send a message to those who seek profit through exploiting desperate migrants.

Kenney made the comments on Monday during a meeting with other European leaders in Paris on the issue of human smuggling.

Critics and some legal experts have questioned what, if anything, the government can do to prevent future migrant ships from arriving in Canada.

As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, Canada is obliged not to send migrants who have reached Canada's territorial waters back to their own country if they face persecution there.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1985 that all people in Canada were protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ruling gives asylum-seekers who enter Canadian territory the legal right to a refugee status hearing before facing potential removal from the country, provided they are not deemed a threat to public safety.

Letters from representatives of those who were on the ship claim the ethnic Tamil population in Sri Lanka still faces harsh treatment since the end of the bloody, decades-long civil war between government forces and separatist Tamil rebels.

The Sri Lankan government has steadfastly denied such claims and insists the country is at peace since last year's defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers.

The Tamil Tigers were outlawed in Canada as a terrorist group in 2006 for their use of child soldiers and suicide bombers during the country's 25-year civil war, which killed an estimated 70,000 people.

With files from The Canadian Press