Minimum sentence is only part of the solution, MP says

Joy Smith, who introduced the bill for mandatory sentencing, is calling for counseling, housing and other support services for victims

“I feel unworthy, dirty, tainted, nothing.”

Those were the words a homeless 15-year-old girl, known only as Eve, used in a victim’s impact statement to describe her state of mind after being sold for sex more than two years by Imani Nakpangi, Canada’s first convicted child-trafficker.

Nakpangi, who had used the money Eve made for him to help finance the purchase of a BMW and a grand home in Niagara Falls, Ont., was sentenced in June 2008 to three years in prison for the human-trafficking charge — a sentence critics denounced as an insult to victims and a bad precedent.

Within months, Conservative MP Joy Smith of Winnipeg introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years on anyone found guilty of trafficking in persons under the age of 18.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 239-46 in the Commons last September. And, in a rare feat for private member’s legislation, it won approval in principle in the Senate last month and was sent to the Senate social affairs committee for detailed study.

Although a few Liberal senators have suggested the bill isn’t tough enough and needs amendment, its supporters still hope it will clear the final approval hoops in the Senate and become law before Parliament breaks for its summer recess in late June.

Smith says she was introduced to the horrors of human-trafficking about a decade ago when her son, a police officer, was working as a child-porn investigator at Winnipeg’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit.

“The first thing that I noticed was the change in my son as a young cop. His hair turned grey almost overnight,” the former teacher recalled.

Smith said she began talking to police officers and young women who had been forced into sexual slavery and came to the conclusion human trafficking was happening to a greater degree than she thought possible.

Smith has since become a leading player in the campaign to make life tougher for human-traffickers and easier for the young men and women, many of whom are aboriginals, who get trapped in their vicious web.

“This bill is a message to everybody — that we won’t stand to have our children bought and sold in this country,” said Smith.

“Right now children are easier to sell than drugs, because if you sell drugs, you have to buy them again. With a child, you can use that child and reuse that child and you can receive a lot of money.”

Smith says a mandatory five year  sentence is only part of the solution.

She and others also want federal and provincial governments to pursue a national strategy that would enhance health, counselling, housing and other support services for victims, establish a national network of information swapping and educate police officers, as well as the general public, on how to spot traffickers and their victims.

Benjamin Perrin, a criminal lawyer and author of a forthcoming book on trafficking, says he’s convinced the business of selling men, women and children for sex and cheap labour is booming within Canada’s borders.

“We’ve uncovered dozens of cases of human trafficking in Canada that have never been made public,” said Perrin, a professor at the University of British Columbia who helped Smith draft the bill.

He was referring to a study he and a team of university researchers conducted for his book, entitled Invisible Chains, Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.

Perrin said the study found human trafficking is happening in every major region of the country, both Canadians and foreigners are victims, and both men and women are engaged in trafficking.

There have been only five convictions since human trafficking was added to Canada’s Criminal Code in 2005, something Perrin traces to a lack of police and law-enforcement resources.

Only one sentence exceeded five years. Laura Emerson of Ottawa was sentenced to seven years last year after being convicted of keeping three young women as sex slaves for male clients.

Perrin said a mandatory fiveyear sentence is a reasonable and crucial step in the right direction.

“The best way to protect victims is to get the trafficker out of the community,” he said.


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