Despite strong opposition from Freedom United and dozens of other organizations, Ontario’s controversial new anti-trafficking bill, Bill 251, passed into law on May 31.
Under the new law, police in Canada’s most populous province have increased powers to question anybody they consider relevant to a sex trafficking investigation, as well as free access to hotel registers.
But Freedom United and others have raised serious concerns that the law risks conflating sex trafficking and consensual sex work, therefore subjecting sex workers to increased surveillance and harassment.
With sex workers’ trust of the police already low, this is counterproductively likely to push real human trafficking for sexual exploitation further underground, and the law’s focus on punitive measures fails to address root causes.
The Durham Community Legal Clinic (DCLC), which provides legal support to sex workers and other marginalized communities in the Greater Toronto Area, criticized the law as misguided.
Omar Ha-Redeye, the DCLC’s executive director, said the legislation will lead to police focusing “on the wrong types of activities in the wrong way” and said its type of approach has been unsuccessful in the past.
Global News reports:
Paralegal Fatima Lam works directly with sex workers in the community. She says the new legislation can add strain to a relationship that is already fragile.
“A lot of these sex workers are marginalized people who don’t have the greatest interactions with police and that is a danger right there,” she said.
“You don’t focus on the root cause of these problems, which has to do with housing, which has to do with immigration, which has to do with migrant work, and I think that’s a huge blindspot (the bill has).”
In a submission to Ontario’s government on May 13, Freedom United urged parliamentarians to back away from the bill and supported similar submissions by other organizations including Butterfly and the HIV Legal Network.
Now that it has passed into law, sex worker advocates are calling on local governments such as the City of Toronto to reject the bill.
However, local members of parliament are standing by the law; Lindsey Park, MPP for Durham Region, insisted that sex workers would not be unfairly targeted.
Sex trafficking and consensual sex work, while often confused, are different phenomena; learn more about the difference and Freedom United’s work on the issue here.