May 20, 2021
On May 13, 2021, the CCLA provided written submissions on Ontario’s Bill 251, the Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021, and urged the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to vote against the Bill.
The bulk of the proposed new measures would result in increased surveillance targeting marginalized communities, increased police powers, and the expansion of coercive enforcement measures. In our submissions, we drew attention to and supported the concerns shared by impacted communities regarding the likely impact of an increased reliance on a police-led, law enforcement approach to addressing the harms of human trafficking. Survivors of human trafficking and sex workers have clearly and repeatedly explained the harms that flow from overbroad, police-based anti-human trafficking initiatives. Such an approach is likely to have profoundly negative consequences for both victims of human trafficking and sex workers.
We called on the Committee to vote against the Bill and urged the government to refocus their efforts on an anti-human trafficking strategy that centers, respects, and protects the rights of children, sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.
In addition to these overarching concerns, CCLA highlighted specific issues raised by three parts of Bill 251.
First, the Bill proposes enacting the Accommodation Sector Registration of Guests Act, 2021, which would expand the existing hotel registry. The new law would require a range of as-yet unspecified businesses to maintain a register of an as-yet-unspecified selection of personal information about guests. This information could then be accessed by police officers, in many circumstances, without requiring a warrant. The threat to privacy would disproportionately impact sex workers and other vulnerable groups harmed by increased police surveillance.
Second, Bill 251 proposes the enactment of the Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy Act, 2021. This Act would allow the government to appoint inspectors with the authority to conduct warrantless entries and searches, demand and copy records, and compel individuals to answer questions separate from others. There is an extremely high likelihood that these provisions would be used in ways that circumvent the standard rights protections that apply during a criminal investigation—including the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to silence, and the right to be free from arbitrary detention—and amount to an unjustifiable infringement of individuals’ constitutional rights.
Third, Bill 251 would amend the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017. One of the proposed amendments would provide police with broad authority to forcibly detain 16- and 17-year-old children who are suspected victims of human trafficking. In their current form, these amendments specifically target children who are disabled, managing a substance use disorder, have precarious immigration status, and/or are experiencing homelessness. They violate children’s rights and in practice, are unlikely to meaningfully contribute to the protection of potential or actual victims of human trafficking.
CCLA shares the Ontario government’s concern for vulnerable community members who may be exploited. However, legislation enacting the province’s anti-human trafficking strategy must be respectful of basic human and constitutional rights, grounded in the experience of victims, and developed in consultation with directly affected communities, including sex workers.
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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