Official federal Opposition leader Andrew Scheer pushed a tough-on-crime agenda in a plan to tackle human trafficking, unveiled May 22 in Aylmer.
Scheer, the Conservative leader, outlined a plan that focused on Criminal Code reforms and toughened penalties for traffickers. The plan includes consecutive sentencing for human traffickers, ending bail for those accused and a renewed commitment to a pre-existing “national action plan.”
Human trafficking is the trade and purchase of people, most often women, for sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is a significant problem in Southwestern Ontario because of the area’s 400-series highways and proximity to large urban centres and the American border.
Scheer also said his party would alter the definition of human trafficking to align with an international standard known as the Palermo Protocol. In the Canadian definition, prosecutors must prove an element of fear in the victims, which Scheer said makes it more difficult to secure a conviction.
“These are measures that frontline providers, engaged in fighting human trafficking and fighting to save the lives of those being trafficked, are asking for. They have been asking for tougher measures,” Scheer said.
The national action plan had been introduced by the previous Conservative government in 2012 but was not extended in 2016.
The May 22 event was held in Aylmer at Farmtown Canada, a support service for girls who have been trafficked.
Kelly Franklin, Farmtown’s executive director, said she welcomes the announcement, especially provisions on bail for traffickers.
“I have heard over and over that especially young people that are being prepared to go to court, the fact that someone is out on bail, it poses fear problems,” Franklin said.
“It is hard enough to be a teenager, let alone think of going to court, let alone think you might bump into someone going to your local grocery store … before you’re testifying about some of the most horrific things that have ever happened to you.”
In response to the announcement, Ralph Goodale, the Liberal government’s public safety minister, said his government is pursuing new initiatives to stop the “scourge” of trafficking, including a new national hotline to launch this spring.
Scheer also said reinstating the national action plan will provide funding for agencies that work with survivors.