Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill S-240, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs)

Third reading of Bill S-240, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs)

Third reading of Bill S-240, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs)

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill S-240, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs).

I would first of all like to thank Senator Ataullahjan for her tireless work on this issue and to acknowledge her leadership in bringing this very important issue forward.

Bill S-240 amends the Criminal Code to create new offences in relation to trafficking in human organs and tissue. It also provides the minister the discretion to deem a permanent resident inadmissible if the minister is of the opinion that a person has engaged in any activities related to trafficking in human organs or tissue.

Before I begin, let me share with you a story of a young tourist visiting family in the Philippines. Jane was a recent college graduate from Australia and decided to visit family members in the Philippines. At a nearby bar, she met a good-looking stranger claiming to be a chef who insisted on bringing her to his restaurant for a new and exciting dining experience.

Jane doesn’t remember much of her evening. She remembers laughing and thinking the man was kind and generous. After only her second drink, she blacked out.

The next thing she remembers is waking up freezing, naked, covered in ice in a bathtub. She tried to move, but her body was in tremendous pain. After many minutes of trying to get out of the bathtub, she saw on her side a poorly stitched, bloody wound.

Near the bathtub there was a phone and a note which said, “Seek emergency care right away.”

Jane’s kidney was stolen from her. For many people just like Jane, victims of human organ trafficking, reality is turned into horror in a matter of seconds. Jane is lucky to be alive today.

Many victims of organ trafficking have disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and their bodies are later discovered with internal organs missing.

Honourable senators, human organ trafficking is an issue in many developing countries where people are tricked into selling, and even donating, kidneys and other parts.

These organs are sold to wealthy foreigners who desperately need them.

These circumstances are described by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

Desperate situations of both recipients and donors create an avenue ready for exploitation by international organ trafficking syndicates. Traffickers exploit the desperation of donors to improve the economic situation of themselves and their families, and they exploit the desperation of recipients who may have few other options to improve or prolong their lives.

Honourable senators, organ donation is strictly regulated in most countries around the world, yet the black market is alive and well.

Kidneys are the organ most trafficked, making up 75 per cent of the illicit trade in organs.

Currently, data from the World Health Organization states that 11,000 human organs were obtained on the black market in 2010, and this number is steadily rising every year. In fact, the number of organ donations from deceased Canadians has surged in recent years, boosted by improvements in the organ donation system.

This means at least one organ is sold every hour, each day, every day of the year.

According to the United Nations, approximately 10,000 illegal kidney transplants are performed worldwide each year.

Poor, desperate people around the world are selling their kidneys for $1,000 and sometimes for even as little as $500.

However, driven by a shortage of living organs, particularly kidneys, Canadian patients are turning to the illegal organ trade in countries like India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Honourable senators, I was really shocked to see that Canada is among the top 10 global importers of organs.

According to the United Nations and quoted on the Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans — Ottawa website, such practices have increased in recent decades due to the growing demand for live-donor organ transplants.

Although some countries in Asia are popular destinations to obtain an organ through the black market, this crime does not occur only in countries overseas.

I remember so vividly watching the news one evening and hearing about Kendrick Johnson’s death. In Georgia, his body was found on school property in 2013. The local sheriff quickly determined the death was a freak accident due to suffocation since his body was discovered stuck in a rolled-up mattress in the school gym.

Johnson’s parents would not accept it. Many months after his death, his parents obtained a court order to have his body exhumed for an independent autopsy.

The discovery was shocking. The corpse was stuffed with newspaper clippings. The brain, heart, lungs and liver were missing. Four major organs were stolen from Kendrick Johnson. He was killed in his hometown, in his neighbourhood, and his body discovered on safe school property.

He was only 17 years old, and his life was stolen by the senseless crime of organ trafficking. Kendrick Johnson’s murder is a reminder that organ trafficking can occur anywhere, even here.

Sadly, honourable senators, children sold into slavery or a life of sexual abuse are also exploited for their organs to make profit. And sometimes the harvesting of children’s organs happens in places we least expect it.

Casa de Mama Rosa was known as a respected orphanage in Zamora, Mexico — until authorities raided the orphanage and discovered that over 500 children were being kept against their will in cramped conditions. The orphanage had been open for 40 years.

After numerous suspicious phone calls, when authorities finally investigated the home, they figured out that in addition to horrible living conditions, the orphanage was the centre of a child organ trafficking scheme.

Mama Rosa ran the orphanage, and she and eight adults were accused and charged with child abuse. In addition to living in appalling conditions with rats and insects in a residential facility, children with biological families were denied all contact with them.

The young boys and girls suffered from severe malnutrition and were forced to beg on the streets.

However, the horror does not stop there. Found inside an ice cream truck close to the orphanage were the frozen bodies of little boys and girls, with organs missing. An orphanage based on charity work, based on an honest cause to give lost children a safe and loving home, turned into a facility of starvation, torture, organ harvesting and murder.

It sickens me to think that possibly one day, Mama Rosa could have sold one of those children’s kidneys to a Canadian individual desperately seeking a new kidney. This wealthy patient might have bought this kidney without asking where it came from to avoid the terrible truth. This is the undeniable truth of the human organ trafficking industry. It is absolutely wrong, morally wrong.

Honourable senators, the people who gain are the wealthiest transplant patients who can afford to buy a kidney, the doctors, the hospital administrators and the traffickers.

In her speech, Senator Ataullahjan said:

. . . organ trafficking is the exploitation of the poor, the indigent, the vulnerable and the marginalized in our society. The recipients are wealthy, influential citizens from foreign countries, largely Western countries, who should be held criminally responsible.

Unfortunately, human organ trafficking is not perceived as an urgent issue, including here in Canada.

Once again, Bill S-240 amends the Criminal Code to create new offences in relation to trafficking in human organs and tissue.

It also provides the minister the discretion to deem a permanent resident inadmissible if the minister is of the opinion that the person has engaged in any activities related to trafficking in human organs or tissue.

It is crucial that our country shows leadership by demonstrating active participation in the detection, investigation and prosecution of those who obtain an organ or a tissue to be transplanted into their body or another person’s body, particularly when the individual was a forced donor and did not give informed consent to the removal.

As we speak, another individual has lost an organ, perhaps even a young child.

For this reason, honourable senators, I urge you to vote quickly in favour of Bill S-240, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking in human organs).

I urge you to think of Jane, Kendrick Johnson and other young men, women and children who are brought under a knife to have their organs forcibly taken from them and given to wealthy individuals with no questions asked.

With the growing number of black market organs sold and bought, we cannot rest until all citizens of the world are free from organ trafficking and we stop being among the top 10 countries in organ trafficking.

Honourable senators, I want to once again thank Senator Ataullahjan for her leadership on this, and I humbly ask you to pass this bill quickly so that it can go to the House of Commons and become law. We can no longer shut our eyes to organ trafficking. Thank you.

Hon. Jane Cordy: May I ask a question? Thank you very much. Thank you firstly to Senator Ataullahjan, who brought this bill to the Senate and to the Human Rights Committee, where we heard exceptional testimony particularly from David Matas and David Kilgour, who are experts in this whole thing.

Thank you very much, senator, for your speech.

Unfortunately, it sounded like a science fiction story you were telling, and to find out that these things are actually going on in the world is pretty scary.

One of the things we heard about was Canadians who travel — in this case to China — for transplants, and then they come back. Clearly their family doctor knows that they have received a transplanted organ.

Have you thought about the responsibility that the medical profession in Canada has to reporting those kinds of things, where they know that somebody has gone offshore, out of Canada, to get a transplant and returned with a new kidney? I think that is the number one thing that you said. Do they have a responsibility to report that to the medical board or to anybody?

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much, senator. I know that your Human Rights Committee heard much testimony. Seventy-five per cent of the organ transplants are kidneys.

I believe the medical profession has a responsibility, and the profession will be guided in such a way. However, at this point, I believe the first step is to make this an offence and then incrementally we can do further things.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals): Senator Jaffer, one of the answers to this problem is to make more and more organs available at home through natural processes. I have a very brief story before I get to my question.

When I became Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada in Nova Scotia back in 1978, Nova Scotia was one of the provinces that did not have an organ donor card attached to its drivers’ licences. I organized the volunteers and went to speak with the Minister of Transportation about having a donor card. The reason I’m telling this story is that minister is now a member of this chamber. I want to pay tribute to Senator McInnis, who very quickly said yes and added the organ donor card to the drivers’ licences in Nova Scotia and saved hundreds if not thousands of lives by that one little action. The next time you see Senator McInnis, please thank him for that.

Was there any discussion throughout the debate on this about continuing to promote the ongoing signing of organ donor cards by Canadians so that tens of thousands of healthy organs are not being wasted after the natural death of Canadians?

Senator Jaffer: Senator Mercer, you ask a really important question, and we can be proactive in making sure we have enough organs by having that card.

Unfortunately, I’m not a member of the Human Rights Committee so I cannot tell you that, but I’m sure that others will be able to answer that question. Thank you.