Combating Human Trafficking – Bill 251 Passes in the Ontario Legislature
In 2020, the Ontario government introduced its 5-year anti-human trafficking strategy, investing $307 million between 2020 and 2025 to combat this injustice. Bill 251 expands on previous anti-human trafficking efforts, giving greater support to victims of trafficking, educating Ontarians about the issue, and providing more tools for law enforcement to crack down on human trafficking.
This week, Bill 251, the Combating Human Trafficking Act, passed 3rd reading in the Ontario Legislature and will soon receive Royal Assent. The bill was initially introduced by the Solicitor General of Ontario. A few weeks ago, we shared information regarding ARPA Canada’s submission and presentation to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy regarding human trafficking. Because it was introduced by a majority government, it was not surprising that it passed, but it is exciting to see the priority the Ontario government is giving to the issue of human trafficking.
Our written and oral submission to the committee focused on three main points. First, we care about the problem of human trafficking because all people are created in the image of God and possess inherent dignity. Human trafficking violates that dignity, reducing unique human beings to commercial objects. Second, human trafficking is closely connected to prostitution, especially when prostitution is legalized or increasingly accepted in society. Finally, sex trafficking exists because of the demand for prostitution, which causes traffickers to try to increase supply by trafficking more victims.
Although a bill against human trafficking should be widely supported, there was a push from some groups to oppose Bill 251 or significantly change it. The Justice Policy Committee ultimately made some changes to the bill as a result, including adding a requirement that the provincial government consult with minority groups, sex workers, sex worker advocates, civil liberties organizations, and organizations that support victims of human trafficking when reviewing the anti-human trafficking strategy every 5 years. Additionally, following concerns that police might abuse their enforcement power to review hotel registries, an amendment to the bill states that police forces must provide annual reports to the Ministry or their police board regarding suspected trafficking cases in hotels and requests to view hotel registries.
Overall, Bill 251 remains a strong piece of legislation that we are happy to see pass into law because of its focus on protecting those who are exploited. Regulations surrounding advertisements for sexual services and the ability for law enforcement to review hotel registries will help law enforcement discover and prevent cases of human trafficking. Additionally, the requirement to review the anti-human trafficking strategy every 5 years will help ensure that this government and future governments maintain an effective strategy against human trafficking. Finally, Bill 251 helps protect victims of human trafficking by increasing the use of restraining orders and offering more specific supports to victims under the age of 18.
ARPA Canada is concerned about the horrible realities of human trafficking in Ontario, and it is exciting to see a focus on addressing the problem through Bill 251.