Several advocates, community organizers and city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam are asking city officials to denounce Bill 251 and not enforce the bill in Toronto.
Advocates and community organizations, along with Wong-Tam, asked city officials to denounce the bill. But after the province passed it, Wong-Tam had to change her proposal at the last minute and is now asking the executive committee to consider not allowing the bill to take effect in Toronto.
“Bill 251 does not take into account that sex work and human trafficking are two different things, and that’s very concerning to me,” she said.
In March 2020, the Ontario government announced a $307-million investment into a five-year anti-trafficking strategy, and the bill was passed on May 31.
“The problem with the bill right now is it’s too broad and comprehensive to the point that it’s too heavy of an approach. I have been observing this subject for 12 years, and some individuals do not support sex work and keep conflating sex work (with) human trafficking, which does (it) a complete disservice,” Wong-Tam said. “Sex work is one thing, and people do it freely, and you may disagree with it, but it’s happening. But those who are constantly trying to save sex workers are seeing them through the lens of sex trafficking.”
During the meeting, advocates on behalf of survivors of trafficking and sex workers like Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, HIV Legal Network and No Pride in Policing Coalition voiced their concerns to Toronto city councillors. They asked city officials to reject the bill and consider moving the funds to community organizations rather than the Toronto Police Service.
“Bill 251 was not created to protect sex workers or survivors of sex trafficking. This bill harms sex workers, especially those from racialized communities. They become victims of racial profiling and, as a result, it creates unsafe working conditions for sex workers,” Elene Lam, founder of Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, said during a city executive committee meeting on June 1.
“We need to invest in community organizations and limit police power and presence in sex working communities,” she said.
The act requires hotels to maintain a registry of every guest who checks in, including their name and address, and provide it to police on demand. But advocates worry that the registry would be used to target sex workers.
“This is unsafe because instead of focusing on the victims, sex workers become the target. They target sex workers who are simply working to provide an income for themselves or their households,” said Jamie Mangnussan, project co-ordinator at No Pride in Policing Coalition.
Advocates say the bill does not address barriers such as poverty, a lack of affordable housing and inadequate social services.
“Sex workers do not trust the police. This is why not implementing the bill and diverting the money that would go to the Toronto Police would be helpful to provide resources and help to sex workers in need,” Mangnussan said.
Wong-Tam recommended city council forward a copy of the recommendations from advocates and the Ontario government and asked to amend Bill 251 and consult with sex workers and other affected vulnerable communities.
City council asked city staff to report and provide more context on Bill 251 and prepare for the next city council meeting on June 8 before making their final decision.