Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Canada: A Must for Drug Offences, But Not for Child Traffickers?

Imani Nakpangi, Canada's first convicted child trafficker, forced two young girls, aged 15 and 18, into prostitution for a 26 month period. He sold them at a rate of $200 for 30 minutes, and $300 for an hour and is estimated to have made over $400,000. He kept them under control through the use of violence, threats and intimidation, including threatening the safety of their family members if they attempted to get away. Nakpangi pled guilty to two counts of human trafficking related charges, and while the presiding Judge called his actions "egregious to the extreme" he sentenced Nakpangi to just 5 years in jail - minus 13 months for time served, the remaining sentence came to 47 months.

In the United States, child traffickers are sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years if the victim was under age 14 at the time of the offence, and a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years if the victim was between 14 and 18 years old at the time of the offence.

The effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences for criminal offences is a contested issue. There is evidence that they fail as a deterrent mechanism and do more harm than good in the long run by minimizing the possibility of meaningful rehabilitation of the offender. (see video link specifically addressing drug offences) That said, they can also be used to reflect the seriousness of the offence and society's abhorrence and complete intolerance for the specific type of criminal activity: to denounce, and to ensure that the punishment is appropriate to the gravity of the offence.

The Canadian Conservative government is once again proposing legislative changes that would impose mandatory minimum sentences - for certain serious drug offences. The proposed legislative change has received vocal support from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and has been commented on by the federal Justice Department. A Private Member's Bill calling for mandatory minimum sentences has also recently been proposed - but this one would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in jail for criminals convicted of the offence of trafficking children for sexual or labour exploitation. See this link for an in depth discussion of Bill C-268. Let me recap that for you: drug offences necessitate swift government action to impose mandatory minimum sentences, and child trafficking does not.

I don't intend to comment on the merits of the proposed sentencing changes for drug offences, nor would I diminish the tragedy of the recent widespread violence in Vancouver - allegedly a result of a gang war over control of the lucrative drug trade. I simply want to vocalize the concern that a crime as heinous as trafficking in children is not receiving the same attention or decisive government action.

Child trafficking is less visible and receives less media attention than issues around drug related offences. But child trafficking is a violation of the most basic human rights of the most vulnerable members of our society. I cannot imagine a crime for which a mandatory minimum sentence, reflecting the Canadian public's complete intolerance and collective denunciation, would be more appropriate.