OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising funding for police, survivor services and public awareness to fight human trafficking as he continues laying planks in his campaign platform.
The previous Conservative government created a four-year strategy to combat human trafficking in 2012. It expired in 2016, shortly after the Liberals took office.
Scheer promised Wednesday to revive it and made other promises to make up a four-point plan that is already facing criticism from the Liberals.
At a stop in Aylmer, Ont., Scheer promised to make changes to the Criminal Code to make it easier to convict people accused of human trafficking. The plan also calls for changes to end "automatic bail" for those charged with trafficking — even though there is no "automatic bail" in Canadian law — and would make those convicted serve a consecutive sentence for each victim, rather than concurrent terms.
"Human trafficking exploits the most vulnerable populations in Canada," Scheer said in a statement. "Every victim deserves justice and our support and protection."
The Public Safety Department says human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, typically involving the use of physical or psychological control over people to exploit them sexually or for labour. It can be difficult to police and prosecute because victims are often moved away from their homes and social networks and kept isolated and fearful, and sometimes have drug addictions or illnesses from long-term trauma.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office released a statement shortly after Scheer's announcement, noting the 2019 federal budget included a promise to develop a whole-of-government strategy to combat human trafficking.
Goodale's statement says the previous Conservative government didn't provide any money for the Harper-era version — though the 2019 budget also doesn't have any funding tied to the promised Liberal strategy.
The Liberals are spending $14.5 million over five years on a hotline to let people report tips to law enforcement, refer victims and survivors to services, and collect more data about the scope of human trafficking in Canada.
As for Scheer's pledge to strengthen Criminal Code wording to ease the path to convictions, similar wording exists in a Liberal bill that is being reviewed by a Senate committee, leaving third reading in the upper chamber as the last major legislative step before it can become law.
The RCMP's human trafficking co-ordination centre says that between 2005 and 2018, the Mounties identified 531 cases where human trafficking charges were laid. Of those cases, 143 resulted in convictions and 316 remain before the courts.