Strengthening Human Trafficking Laws

On February 9, 2016, the Government of Canada introduced legislation to bring into force additional tools for law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute certain human trafficking offences that can be difficult to prove.

The Government has proposed to bring into force former Private Member’s Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons), with amendments to ensure consistency with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Human trafficking is a serious criminal offence punishable by severe penalties, including life imprisonment in certain cases. Victims suffer physical or emotional abuse and are often forced to live and work in horrific conditions. The Government is committed to strengthening its efforts to combat human trafficking and better protect its victims, who are often among society’s most vulnerable.

Reforms to the Criminal Code that would be brought into force

Under the Criminal Code, human trafficking includes when someone recruits, transports, harbours or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of another person, in order to exploit them or make it possible for others to exploit them. Former Bill C-452 amends the Criminal Code to create an evidentiary presumption that would help prosecutors prove one of the elements of the trafficking offence, i.e., 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 that victim.

The Criminal Code provides for forfeiture to the state of proceeds of crime as part of sentencing. Normally, the Crown must prove that the property in question meets the definition of “proceeds of crime,” however, a reverse onus applies for certain criminal organization and drug offences. This means that the onus is on the offender to prove that their property is not the proceeds of crime. Former Bill C-452 also amends the Criminal Code to add offences related to trafficking in persons to the reverse onus scheme, which would make it easier to seize proceeds of crime related to human trafficking.

Amendment to French

Former Bill C-452 also amends the French version of the Criminal Code to fix a discrepancy between the French and English definitions of “exploitation” as it applies to human trafficking.

Mandatory consecutive sentencing

Former Bill C-452 required that judges impose consecutive sentences where an offender is sentenced at the same time for a trafficking-in-persons offence and any other offence arising out of the same event(s).

This provision, when combined with the mandatory minimum penalties for human trafficking offences enacted by former Bill C-36 (Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act), could result in grossly disproportionate sentences. This could amount to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Given this Charter concern, Bill C-452’s consecutive sentencing requirement would not be brought into force at this time. However, it would be considered as part of the Minister’s broader criminal justice system review, which includes consideration of related mandatory sentencing provisions.

Royal Assent and coming into force of legislation

The length of time it will take to receive Royal Assent cannot be predicted. Parliament is responsible for the legislative process but if the proposed legislation is considered in a short time frame, amendments to the Criminal Code (sections 1, 2 and 4) may come into force as soon as possible. These three amendments would come into force upon the proposed legislation receiving Royal Assent.