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Combatting Human Trafficking in Canada: champions, trophies, roses and the shoulders of others


By Don Hutchinson

Last week, after 3 weeks out of the office (a buddy and I took our motorcycles and went for Fathers’ Day in Macon, GA and then lunch in New Orleans, LA – a 7,200 km round trip), this was posted by MP Joy Smith on facebook and linked with my name (and the EFC’s Julia Beazley, among others):  

Canada's human trafficking offences have been strengthened since originally introduced in 2005. Here is a chart that documents the changes. Over the past few years, the legislative changes and initiatives like a National Action Plan are a result of the countless Canadians and NGOs who have advocated for Canada to tackle modern day slavery. You can download the original here:

My first reaction was that my name didn’t belong on the list. Then, I started to think about the many names that belonged on the list and weren’t there. Finally, I settled on the realization that we had accomplished something great and the names on the list were simply representative; kind of like when a sports organization wins a championship and only the owner, coach and players get their names engraved on the trophy even though the organization is large, has a history that got it where it is, and has many fans.

One of my favourite spots in law school was the rose garden across the street from the front entrance to the building. I’m neither gardener nor flower person, but there are moments in life when one does well to stop, smell the roses and take in the view before moving on. The rose garden was my place to be still for the sometimes needed and therapeutic reflection of what had been done before pressing on with what needed doing. At those times, I would pause, reflect and offer thanks for the many who had gone before to make my contribution or accomplishment possible; as Bernard of Chartres said, “We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.”

It now appears to have been with prescience that two years ago Julia Beazley wrote the closing words of a blog that reflected on the passage of Joy Smith’s private member’s Bill C-268, a bill that extended greater protection to children from traffickers and drew together a network of individuals and organizations in a groundswell of support calling for action on human trafficking in Canada – No Small Accomplishment.

A coordinated, multi-level strategy is required to identify and prosecute perpetrators, identify, rescue and support victims, and to curb the demand for human servitude, sexual or otherwise. Curbing this demand will require a serious look at additional measures to combat human trafficking (see Human Trafficking: A Report on Modern Day Slavery in Canada) and Canada’s existing laws on prostitution, because the close linkages between human sex trafficking and prostitution are undeniable. This is a topic for another blog to come, but you can read more in Selling Ourselves: Prostitution in Canada – Where Are We Headed?.

Bill C-268 has provided a gathering place and focal point for a broad range of groups and agencies that are actively working to fight human trafficking or seeking to find ways of doing so. It has put this important issue on the parliamentary agenda, and provided Canadians a push to let Parliamentarians know we are concerned and want our government to take action and show leadership on this issue. This is perhaps the greatest victory of Bill C-268. Thanks Joy, for your persistence.

With the Royal Assent to Bill C-310, extending the reach of Canada’s laws against human trafficking to the actions of Canadians outside our borders, it would be all too easy to buckle down in pursuit of amending Canada’s prostitution laws as part of the necessary steps in a strategy to overcome this modern day slavery. But, for a moment, let’s go to the rose garden, sit on that bench looking out over the Pacific, and reflect.

Less than a decade ago, Canada had no specific criminal prohibitions against human trafficking. The efforts of my predecessors at the EFC (along with others) contributed to then Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler amending Canada’s Criminal Code in 2005 to indicate Canada’s intent to prevent human trafficking, protect victims and prosecute offenders.

Just a few short weeks before Governor General David Johnston put pen to paper granting Royal Assent to C-310, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews held a media conference (at which Julia and I were honoured to attend, again along with others) to introduce Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking for the same purposes as Mr. Cotler’s amendments; and, noting the battle would proceed in partnership with others, domestically and internationally.

The shoulders I’m privileged to stand on include those of 3 Prime Ministers – Chretien, Martin and Harper – as well as many cabinet ministers, MPs and Senators who have taken initiative on this issue; past directors of the Centre for Faith and Public Life, CFPL staff and interns; and, most particularly, in recent years a diminutive and determined school teacher and mother of a police officer from Winnipeg, Member of Parliament Joy Smith. Thanks Joy, for your persistence.




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