As part of my story on Conservative MP Joy Smith musing about criminalising prostitution in Canada, I spoke to new Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings. Being as it was my first chance to talk to her in her new role, I took the opportunity to ask her about how she’ll be approaching the portfolio.
Q: Drug policy and the drug bills are coming through – you’re the critic on these issues now, so I’m wondering if you’re going to start changing the tone on the party’s response?
A: I’m looking at all of the bills that the government has brought out – some of them are bills that have been on the Order Paper several times – the government hasn’t moved them. They’ve allowed them to die through prorogation, or through an election, or were tardy in bringing it back – there seems to be no urgency. One thing that has become clear to me looking at the government’s record over the past couple of years is that the government uses criminal justice bills as a political wedge, and they only bring it forth when they think they have some kind of political gain from it. They’re not dealing with criminal justice in order for the betterment of Canadian society and Canadians. So I’m looking at these bills, I’m examining them very carefully, and based on the principles that the Liberal Party has always stood for, which is we try to base our policy on facts and evidence – scientific evidence – it may mean that we may take a harder look at them. Let me put it that way – a much harder look at these bills than perhaps we have in the past.
Q: Lately I’ve been noticing that human trafficking is the new moral panic that the government is stirring up. Do you have any particular thoughts on that to start off with?
A: I actually do. I have a bill on the Order Paper, which would deal with one tiny aspect of human trafficking under the Immigration and Citizenship law, the sections that deal with the border security that handle deportations, etcetera, where right now the agent has the authority to either issue a temporary visa for a victim of human trafficking to stay or not, and they’re doing it on the basis that the victim has to cooperate and collaborate with law enforcement. That particular provision doesn’t take into account a victim of human trafficking is traumatised, and in many cases, if they come from outside of the country, their families back home are under threat, and therefore I remove that and say that the victims’ cooperation or not with law enforcement is not a basis with which to refuse the visa. However, some of the reports that I’ve been reading in preparation for my job as justice critic is the fact that there’s a lot of human trafficking that goes in Canada, but the overwhelming majority of that human trafficking is not non-Canadians being trafficked into Canada – it’s actually Canadians who are being trafficked either through the organised crime drug pushers, etcetera. I haven’t finished reading the report, but that was very interesting, and it’s very interesting that this government isn’t taking that into account.
Jennings’ sister was in town when we did the interview, and filmed part of it. You can see part of it in the video she shot and posted on YouTube (and yes, that’s my hand and digital recorder).