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How migrant sex workers are impacted by anti-trafficking laws

  • Published on
    October 27, 2021
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  • Category:
    Human Trafficking, Law & Policy
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A new report outlines how Canada’s complex laws aimed at combatting sex trafficking are putting migrant sex workers at greater risk of harm while doing little to tackle trafficking.

Heightened risks faced by migrant sex workers

Detention, deportation and racial profiling are some of the concerns from migrant communities who are targeted by the domestic anti-trafficking legal framework consisting of federal laws and municipal bylaws.

The strict regulation of businesses reduce migrant workers’ power to negotiate safer work conditions and make it less likely for migrant sex workers to report abuse and exploitation to authorities through fear of punishment under laws that criminalize their immigration status or aspects of their work.

Legislation fails to curb trafficking

The report’s findings also point to how there is no evidence that these interconnected laws aimed at combatting trafficking protect migrant women from trafficking nor do they reduce exploitation in the sex industry. Instead, traffickers are empowered to exploit migrant workers with insecure immigration status, using migrants’ vulnerability created by restrictive laws and the serious threat of deportation as leverage.

The Lawyer’s Daily reports:

Judy Fudge, a report co-author and LIUNA Enrico Henry Mancinelli Professor in Global Labour Issues at McMaster University, called deportation a “strange way to protect people who are vulnerable to exploitation.”

“These laws and policies make migrant sex workers more susceptible to poor working conditions, exploitation, predation, racism and ill health,” said Fudge, who also previously taught at Osgoode Hall Law School.


Report co-author Vincent Wong, a lawyer and PhD candidate at Osgoode Hall, noted the City of Toronto pivoted its municipal bylaw enforcement in 2012 towards human trafficking, health and safety and crime prevention. “Under this pivot, municipal ticketing and licensing exclusions are seen as a key tool in making it unfeasible for body rub centres and massage parlours to operate economically,” he said. “But many tickets starting in 2012 were for banal infractions which really have no rational connection to combating the labour exploitation that undergirds trafficking.”

Recommendations made by the report’s authors include calling for Canada’s Border Services Agency to have no involvement in the investigation of human trafficking cases and to repeal laws targeted at sex work-specific criminal offenses.

Learn more about decriminalization

Watch our Senior Campaigns Adviser, Jamison Liang, as part of a fantastic panel of speakers on November 4 discussing why decriminalizing sex work will help to end trafficking in Canada and globally. Register here.

You can learn more about the links of the full decriminalization of sex work and building resilience to human trafficking here.


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