We are very concerned that Bill C-75, which will soon have its Third Reading in the Senate, proposes to make several serious indictable offences into hybrid offences.
Criminal laws give expression to the norms that undergird a society. They express and reinforce the basic commitments that bind a society together. It is often said that the law is a teacher. We must carefully consider the implications of changes made to the Criminal Code.
The categorization of a criminal offence tends to indicate the seriousness of the conduct it addresses. Hybridization suggests an offence can now be considered less of a violation of human dignity, less of a threat to society and social cohesion, and less harmful to the vulnerable among us.
We submit that to hybridize offences dealing with human trafficking, sexual exploitation and assault of clergy, as proposed in this bill, would both send the wrong message and negatively impact the administration of justice.
Of particular concern, the bill proposes to hybridize Criminal Code s.279.02(1) material benefit - trafficking and s. 279.03(1) withholding or destruction documents - trafficking.
Human trafficking and sexual exploitation constitute a grave violation of human rights, and the gravity of these offences must be consistently reflected in our laws and policies.
In Canada it is mainly Canadian women and girls who are being trafficked, and they are being trafficked into the commercial sex trade. RCMP data indicates 95% of all trafficking charges in Canada in the last 12 years were domestic and primarily involved sexual exploitation. Statistics Canada reports that 95% of victims are female, 72% are under the age of 25, and 1 in 4 are under the age of 18.
We want to significantly reduce this exploitation, to deter and discourage it by all means possible, not open the door to lesser consequences for those who exploit others.
Further, given the nature of control traffickers exert over victims, one of the impediments to successful prosecution of trafficking offences is that victims are often afraid to testify. They fear retribution from their trafficker, who may do minimal time in prison before being back on the streets.
We submit that allowing trafficking-related offences to proceed summarily, with lesser penalties, does not take seriously the very real safety concerns of victims or encourage them to come forward. Nor does it consider the disproportionate impact of the changes on Indigenous and marginalized victims.
These offences must remain indictable, as a reflection of the seriousness of the crimes.
The bill hybridizes Criminal Code s.286.2(1) material benefit from sexual services, as well. This provision is aimed at and applied to persons who are benefiting from the sale of someone else’s sexual services. Our laws aim to prevent exploitation by targeting the demand for paid sex that fuels sex trafficking, and they are a critical tool in the fight against sexual exploitation. As such, this offence should not be hybridized.
We note also with concern that the bill hybridizes s.176(1), which deals with obstructing or violence to officiating clergy. We urge you to carefully consider the message sent if obstruction or violence to clergy is hybridized, particularly in a time of increasing incidents and attacks against religious communities and officials. These incidents point to a trend, and given the seriousness of this trend, we should be strengthening protection, not weakening it.
Sir John A. Macdonald said the Senate was to be a ‘chamber of sober second thought,’ where legislation receives proper, careful consideration. We ask you to amend this legislation as a way to reduce the exploitation of the vulnerable among us.
When Bill C-75 has Third Reading, we ask that you take steps to amend Bill C-75 so that these serious criminal offences remain indictable offences, rather than being hybridized.
Director, Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Author: Julia Beazley