Ontario has introduced sweeping legislative changes to fight human trafficking that will give police quicker access to information and impose requirements on businesses that come into contact with suspected victims. In introducing the measures Monday, Premier Doug Ford said the province has become a hub for human trafficking and he cannot allow it to continue.
The proposed changes would impose new requirements on hotels and short-term rentals to help police with human-trafficking investigations, such as providing guest lists to police without a court order and establishing a time period for how long guest lists need to be kept, because some investigations span years. The legislation would require short-term rental units to maintain a guest registry, and increase fines for non-compliance, willfully allowing a false statement to be entered into the registry or failing to comply with a police request to view a guest register.
A Globe and Mail report on Monday described how women and girls across Canada have been sex trafficked for decades and the crime has continued as perpetrators move victims frequently between cities to isolate them and evade police. The Globe spoke to women about their personal experiences being sex trafficked.
Under the government’s proposed Anti-Human-Trafficking Strategy Act, 2021, hotels and businesses such as taxi or ride-sharing companies that frequently come into contact with victims and survivors of human trafficking will be required to post educational information about the crime. They would also be required to provide or receive anti-human-trafficking training as part of employment, and report when they suspect human trafficking is happening.
“This legislation is the first of its kind in Canada, and it is desperately needed here in Ontario,” Mr. Ford said alongside Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones and Jill Dunlop, associate minister of children and women’s issues. The Globe and Mail first reported the legislative changes Monday morning.
The Centre to End Human Trafficking released a report Monday documenting the routes traffickers use to transport victims. It identified Ontario’s 401 highway, as well as highways 11 and 17 connecting Sudbury and Thunder Bay through Northern Ontario and onward to Winnipeg. The report said most exploitation happens in hotels and short-term rentals.
While representatives for the hospitality sector and police welcomed the government’s proposals, the centre said in a statement that the legislative changes fall short in tackling the crisis.
“We need long-term funding in perpetuity to tackle the very real, long-term trauma that survivors of human trafficking are forced to live with and to once and for all tackle this crisis,” said Julia Drydyk, the centre’s executive director.
The hotel industry supports the measures and most hotels have already initiated sex-trafficking awareness and training for staff, said Tony Elenis, president and CEO of Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association.
“This is a critically concerning crime and the hotel industry supports the prevention and eradication of human trafficking. We need to stop this,” he said.
Mr. Elenis said the majority of hotels require guest registration and record-keeping procedures so those requirements won’t be new to most, he said.
When it comes to handing over hotel registries to police, he said his organization is hoping that is a privilege that will be used in serious cases.
Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, said the legislation will help police but also victims. “I just think more eyes and more ears will assist with the saving of victims, and I think that’s the priority,” he said.
The province is also proposing to require companies that advertise sexual services to ensure their contact information, such as a company phone number or e-mail address, is made public, and respond to law enforcement within a specified time frame to support investigations into human trafficking.
If people or businesses fail to comply with the requirements, they could be fined. The legislation would also mandate that the province maintain an anti-human-trafficking strategy and carry out regular reviews and consultation.
Teresa Armstrong, MPP for London West and Official Opposition critic for children and youth services, said the NDP is taking time to fully review the bill, but said her party supports “meaningful action to combat human trafficking, and to provide better supports to survivors who suffer from this horrific crime.”
“We have a duty to protect those targeted by traffickers and punish those who target the most vulnerable children in our province,” she said.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca supported the government’s announcement.
“Tackling human trafficking is incredibly important to protect women and girls – especially Indigenous women and girls – and members of the LGBTQ2+ community. Ontario can and should lead the fight against human trafficking, and I’m happy to see the government take some action on the issue,” he said.
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