Niagara hotel providers join fight against sex trafficking as province proposes new legislation

Niagara trafficking announcement Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries (top left) joined Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, (top right) Deputy Chief Brett Flynn of the Niagara Regional Police (bottom left), YWCA Niagara executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann (not picted), and Niagara Falls Canada Hotel Association executive director Doug Birrell (bottom right) Friday,

Hotel providers in the Niagara Region and across Ontario could be called on to join help fight against human trafficking.

This announcement comes as the Ontario government plans to crack down on the crime that victims young women and girls as young as 11-years-old.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries joined Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, Deputy Chief Brett Flynn of the Niagara Regional Police, YWCA Niagara executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann, and Niagara Falls Canada Hotel Association executive director Doug Birrell, Friday, to discuss new proposed anti-human trafficking legislation.

MacLeod called it “an all-government approach…It is also an all-Ontario approach. Each one of us has an obligation to protect these young women and girls from sex trafficking and that’s why it’s important that the people we have here today lead on victims services, and law enforcement, and our hotel and accommodations sector.”

Ontario moved to crack down on human trafficking by introducing legislation Monday that would give police more power to swiftly access information in suspected cases. 

The bill, if passed, would compel hotels and similar companies to keep a list of information on guests that officers could request if they believe it could help locate, identify or protect a suspected human trafficking victim. 

Companies or guests who fail comply with the rules or make false statements could be fined up to $5,000. 

Doug Birrell, Executive Director, Niagara Falls Canada Hotel Association said in the regional announcement Friday, “Eliminating hotels as a venue for trafficking can have a major impact for helping dismantling trafficking rings. The Niagara Falls Canada Hotel Association is joining hotel associations right across the province to help bring an end to the suffering caused by human trafficking, sex trafficking.”

He said the association has a program to train employees to recognize the signs of trafficking and to respond to help stop it. “This is a serious and ugly activity and we can play a proactive role in the solution,” he said.

The bill would also require companies that sell sexual services to publish their contact information and respond to law enforcement within a set time frame.

Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week that Ontario has become a “hub” for human trafficking and the legislation is desperately needed. “We will not allow this to continue here in Ontario,” he said.

A Statistics Canada report published last year found that Ontario accounted for 68 per cent of all police-reported human trafficking incidents between 2009 and 2018.

The proposed changes include two new acts – the Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy Act, 2021 and the Accommodation Sector Registration of Guests Act, 2021. It also amend the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 and the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act, 2017.

The changes would support the government’s response to human trafficking by:

  • Supporting a long-term provincial response to human trafficking and emphasizing that all Ontarians have a role to play in combatting human trafficking
  • Strengthening the ability of children’s aid societies and law enforcement to protect exploited children
  • Supporting more survivors and the people who support them in obtaining restraining orders against traffickers, with specific consideration for Indigenous survivors
  • Increasing the government’s ability to collect non-personal data to better understand and respond to human trafficking
  • Providing law enforcement with more tools to locate victims and charge traffickers by:
  • Increasing penalties for traffickers who interfere with a child in the care of a children’s aid society.
  • It clarifies how and when police services can access information from hotel guest registries to help deter trafficking and identify and locate victims while establishing regulation-making authority to include other types of accommodation providers
  • It requires companies that advertise sexual services to have a dedicated contact to support investigations into suspected human trafficking.

With files from the Canadian Press