In March 2020, the Ontario government announced a $307 million investment into a five-year anti-trafficking strategy. On February 22, 2021, Bill 251, Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021 was introduced by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. The stated purpose of the Act is to combat human trafficking and provide support for survivors by adopting a law enforcement model, increasing surveillance powers for police and Ministerially appointed inspectors, and imposing charges and hefty fines for violations.
The HIV Legal Network and Butterfly (Asian Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) have grave concerns about the Act’s reliance on a law enforcement model that has been proven to be not only effective, but counterproductive to efforts to tackle human trafficking. In particular, we are concerned that the proposed Act will continue to reinforce the conflation of trafficking with sex work; adopts a problematic law enforcement model that further entrenches the wide-ranging powers of police officers and inspectors to surveil sex workers in numerous settings; and confers broad, excessive investigative powers to inspectors. We urge the government to quash this Act and adopt an anti-human trafficking strategy that is rooted in human rights, including labour rights and migrant rights, and addresses the numerous structural barriers including poverty, precarious immigration status, and lack of access to affordable housing, health and social services that contribute to the risks of human trafficking.
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