MP lashes out at senators over trafficking

Says bill’s delay puts children at risk

OTTAWA — Manitoba Conservative MP Joy Smith says senators are putting Canadian kids in jeopardy by not ensuring speedy passage of her private member’s bill to apply stiffer sentences to people who traffic children. “We have to protect our children,” she said.But the senator at which Smith aimed much of her criticism said the allegations are “infantile” and she has no intention of voting for a bill without giving it significant research and thought.

Smith’s bill, C-268, sets a minimum five years in prison for people convicted of trafficking a child, and six years for aggravating factors such as sexual assault.

The current penalty is a maximum of 14 years for all human-trafficking convictions, regardless of the victim’s age. There is no minimum.

Smith’s bill was introduced last winter and passed the House of Commons Sept. 30. The Senate began debating it in October.

Smith and a number of human-trafficking experts have been giving the Senate a full-court press on the bill since it went to the upper chamber.

She had hoped it would pass in time for the Vancouver Olympics, an event where sex trafficking is expected to be rampant. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.”

But she said Wednesday it is virtually impossible that will happen. She blamed senators for not pushing the bill through quickly.

“These people in the Senate think they are the fountain of knowledge against all the experts,” Smith said.

Her accusations were particularly aimed at independent Senator Anne Cools, who spoke to the bill Tuesday. Smith accused Cools of purposely delaying her speech for several weeks to hold up the bill.

Cools called that ridiculous.

The suggestion that people backing the bill are the authorities on the topic is like telling an accused person not to bother mounting a defence because the experts say they are guilty, Cools said.

“It’s such an infantile statement it needs no answer.” Cools said. “It stands on its own ignorance.”

Cools said she has been bombarded by an aggressive, “uncharitable, mean-spirited” swath of press releases and letters aimed at intimidating her into voting in favour of the bill without doing any research.

Cools said it’s ironic that Smith’s campaign has raised so much interest in the bill that many senior senators want to speak to it, which will mean debate in the Senate will take longer.

She said she will vote for the bill at second reading because she believes it needs a much more in-depth study during the Senate committee stage. But she said she believes it has serious deficiencies, not the least of which is a lack of explanation for how and why a mandatory minimum sentence would cut human trafficking. “I do not believe that mandatory minimum sentences will cure either the problems of the criminal justice system or the social problems that cause these offences,” she said in her speech Tuesday.

“This is a deep matter, and these are deep questions that need serious attention from government and I would admit, deep study in this place.”

Cools said if Smith and the Conservatives believed the bill should be passed quickly, the government would have put the weight of the minister and cabinet behind it — but that did not happen.

Cools is an independent senator from Toronto. She was appointed as a Liberal in 1984, crossed the floor to the Tories in 2004, but the party booted her out in 2007.

Manitoba Senator Sharon Carstairs, who will speak to the bill, said she supports the principle of tougher sentences but doesn’t like mandatory minimums. “I believe in judicial discretion.”


Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 10:26 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. If Cools can’t understand why human traffickers belong in prison for as long as they can possibly be kept there, she should resign from the Senate.

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