Conservative MP Joy Smith will introduce a private members bill that targets human trafficking, the lucrative organized-crime racket that typically lures boys, girls and women from small towns and turns them into sex slaves.
"Everyone thinks this crime was stopped in the 1800s, but it has taken on a new form and targets children," said Mrs. Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul). "We're taking a closer look at halting the rights of pedophiles and making sure the rights of ordinary citizens are protected."
The initiative comes two weeks after the worldwide manhunt and apprehension of Canadian teacher Christopher Paul Neil, who is accused of sexually abusing at least 12 boys in Asia.
But travelling for the purposes of such alleged crimes is only part of a wider scourge that is regarded by non-governmental organizations as both a domestic and international embarrassment.
"There are at least 27 million people trapped in various forms of slavery, and that is more people than were trafficked from Africa 400 years ago," said Jamie McIntosh, executive director of the Canadian branch of the International Justice Mission. "It's snuffing out our brothers and sisters around the world."
Mrs. Smith's proposal, which would amend the Criminal Code, takes aim at the supply and demand of trafficking, including sexual tourism: transmitting, distributing, or advertising any information for the means of sexual exploitation would be illegal. The most serious offence, providing information on how to exploit a child or where to do it, could bring a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.
To combat trafficking from the demand side, Mrs. Smith is also preparing a bill that would further monitor the movement of convicted pedophiles in Canada.
In the event of travelling abroad, they would have to let authorities know their destination a week in advance and would need to check in within three days of their arrival.
As it stands, the perpetrators can leave the country without notification. If they plan to stay longer than two weeks, they must report by the 15th day.
Experts say that in contrast to many prostitutes, victims of human trafficking have much less choice in determining their fates. Around half of them are underage, according to U.S. State Department estimates. Often lured to a different country or a big city under a false pretext by gangsters, they are coerced into the trade by threats of retaliation against family, beatings, torture or drugging unless they submit to customers. To keep them indentured, bosses - who are often called boyfriends - loan them money at usurious rates.
About 80% of the slaves are female, and around 50% are underage, according to U.S. State Department analysis.
Because trafficking is an underworld activity, estimates on its scope vary wildly. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that on any given day 2.5 million people throughout the world are victims of human trafficking, the vast majority of them for sexual purposes. Experts believe the US$32-billion industry generates in revenue make it second only to drugs and guns on the black market. Most of its victims come from Asian countries such as Cambodia, India and Thailand, and Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Moldova.
The extent of the crime in Canada remains disputable. RCMP figures say it ranges from 800-1,200 victims a year, while non-governmental organizations place the numbers at around 15,000.
In Toronto alone, the RCMP estimates that 100 girls are being supplied yearly to the sex trade. They yield around $5 million for their bosses.
Most of the women trafficked into the country are from Asia-Pacific, in, particular from the Fujan region of China and South Korea. Within Canada, victims can often come from Aboriginal reserves.
Dianna Bussey, chair of the Salvation Army's anti-trafficking network, said there is a reserve just north of Winnipeg facing a mini-crisis. Following a universal pattern, outsiders are parachuting into a small village, honing in on financially or emotionally vulnerable girls, and duping them. "The predators pose as tourists, asking local girls for nice places to hunt and fish, then they start showering them with gifts. Then they say, 'come down to Winnipeg.' "
Critics of Canadian law point out that a lax history of prosecution make the country an easy target for organized crime, and also a well-positioned launchpad for crime into the United States. "Canada has not convicted a single person of the offence of human trafficking, while the United States has successfully prosecuted hundreds," said Benjamin Perrin, assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia.
Source: The National Post