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Image from Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network

by Sissi Wang and Eden Debebe

The Ontario government is debating a new law it says is ‘key’ to ending human trafficking in the province, but activists say Bill 251 will expand police power to criminalize sex workers and increase racial profiling and discrimination against Asian and Black communities.

The proposed “Combatting Human Trafficking Act” would grant new powers to police and allow them to question individuals, conduct inspections without a warrant, and obtain sensitive guest information from hotels and AirBnBs.

On Tuesday, a joint press conference backed by 60 human rights organizations called for all political parties to reject the proposed legislation for being unconstitutional.

Executive director of Asian and migrant sex workers support network Elena Lam said she is concerned that it will increase the violence experienced by sex workers instead of protecting trafficked victims.

“The new anti-trafficking act is being used to cover up the real purpose of the government which is expanding the police power and law enforcement, and increasing the criminalization, racial profiling, and anti-Black and anti-Asian racism,” Lam said.

Lawyer Sandra Ka Hon Chu, who co-authored a 2019 study on sex workers in Ontario, said human trafficking initiatives have been used as a pretext to monitor and interrogate sex workers in the past, with racialized women being notably targeted by police and arrested for immigration infractions and other bylaw charges.

“Racialized and migrant transwoman in particular have faced intense racial profiling including a presumption of involvement in sex work,” Chu said.

“But one sweeping commonality among all the sex workers we interviewed was their experience of law enforcement as a source of repression, not protection.”

Ellie Ade Kur works with Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, an organization that provides support services for sex workers in the city. She shared Chu’s concerns and added the extra funding going towards policing could be better used towards community services that actively help racialized sex workers. 

“We call on the Ontario government to scrap this bill and use the money earmarked to invest in community organizations serving survivors and serving communities historically targeted by policing,” Kur said.