It’s not the outcome the Durham Community Legal Clinic (DCLC) was hoping for.
As an organization that provides legal support for marginalized communities, including sex workers, executive director and lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye says Ontario’s new human trafficking legislation, Bill 251, raises numerous red flags.
“It gives the police far too much discretion, and far too much power to question anyone they want,” said Ha-Redeye.
“Unfortunately here in Durham region, that’s not the approach that we have seen that has been effective.”
The bill is intended to help victims of the illegal sex trade by expanding police authority so that officers can question anyone they deem relevant to an investigation. Law enforcement will also be able to access guest registers at hotels.
Ha-Redeye says though sex work is legal in Canada, the legislation could result in police disproportionately gaining intelligence on individuals, rather than on traffickers themselves.
“They’re going to focus on the wrong types of activities in the wrong way, and do it in a manner that actually pushes the illegal behaviour and illegal conduct even deeper underground.”
Paralegal Fatima Lam works directly with sex workers in the community. She says the new legislation can add strain to a relationship that is already fragile.
“A lot of these sex workers are marginalized people who don’t have the greatest interactions with police and that is a danger right there,” she said.
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“You don’t focus on the root cause of these problems, which has to do with housing, which has to do with immigration, which has to do with migrant work, and I think that’s a huge blindspot (the bill has).”
The legal clinic adds the strategy may not be as effective as it seems. Ha-Redeye says this is because offenders do not limit their activity to only hotels, they can now make use of short-term rentals and even Airbnbs. He adds DCLC pushed for the government to invest funds in community resources and social supports rather than police services.
More than 70 community organizations disputed the legislation prior to it being passed, including advocates who say it will put sex workers, racialized and marginalized people at risk.
Still, Durham MPP Lindsey Park insists police will play an integral role in locating victims and their focus will not be on sex workers.
“This bill is only about human trafficking. The only time sex work is mentioned in the bill is actually when that five year mark comes for the strategy to be updated. The government is required to consult with sex workers and sex work advocates,” Park told Global News.
“This is not about people who are voluntarily choosing to enter this as a line of work, this is about control and coercion that’s resulting in exploitation.”
Global News reached out to Durham police, who were
not available for comment before broadcast deadline.