Queen’s Park is continuing to debate proposed Bill 251, which if passed, would give police additional powers in an effort to rescue victims of human trafficking.
Durham MPP Lindsey Park says the bill was debated for its third reading in the legislature Wednesday.
“We do give (police) additional tools through this bill that are for the sole purpose of investigating human trafficking where it is expected,” Park said.
If passed, the legislation would extend police authority so that officers could conduct inspections anywhere and question anyone who may be relevant to an investigation. The bill could also enhance police powers in hotels, where victims of human trafficking are often unlawfully held. Officers could walk in and access guest registers without having to present a court order.
Darla Griswold is a surviving victim of human trafficking. Originally from Portland, Oregon, when she was just 18 years old, she was smuggled into Canada in the back of a trunk.
“It was all about survival,” Griswold said of her ordeal. “‘How am I going to make it through this? How am I going to be able to make it back home? How am I going to be able to get my freedom?'”
Griswold says not much has changed when it comes to sex trafficking since her traumatic experience 25 years ago. However, she supports the proposed legislation, saying it would make a meaningful impact by removing barriers.
“When I was taken, if the police and the FBI had access to all that information at the drop of a hand, I would have been found a long time ago,” she said,
“I wouldn’t have lived the life I did. I wouldn’t have had to go through all of the experience that I did because I would have been at home, with my mom.”
However, more than 70 community organizations are disputing the proposed bill, including advocates who say it will put sex workers and marginalized people at risk.
“It’s harmful to sex workers and harmful to racialized people particularly Black, Asian and Indigenous people,” said Elene Lam with Butterfly, an organization supporting Asian and migrant sex workers.
“It increases the surveillance, increases the police power to arrest, detain and deport the people.”
When asked what her response was to these concerns, Park said she understood the different views “on the role of police and frankly anything in our society right now.”
“I think our government continues to see the important role of police services in investigating these crimes.”
The legislature is expected to vote on the bill in the next two weeks.
If you know someone that is a victim of human trafficking and needs support, resources can be found here.