Bill 251 is an extremely concerning piece of legislation that will drastically expand police powers and empower them to continue targeted profiling and harassment of local sex workers. The bill deliberately conflates sex work with sex trafficking and minimizes anti-trafficking efforts to focus on a singular effort to police commercial sex industries. For this reason the bill has faced little criticism from all ends of Ontario’s political spectrum, despite the vocal support the bill receives from right-wing religions groups calling for the abolition of sex work entirely through a racist, moralistic disinformation campaign.The Bill, now past its first reading, invests more than $300m in provincial policing efforts, brings child protective services further into cooperation with local police and requires businesses such as hotels - potentially companies like Airbnb and Uber - to reveal sensitive information about our community members. The bill conflates sex work and human trafficking with the intended purpose of broadening police powers and further criminalizing racialized, sex-working communities. This bill will be extremely harmful to sex workers, Black and Indigenous communities of colour as well as queer and trans communities - particularly those with precarious status. Expanding police power to racially profile and detain our community members poses a significant threat to the heatlh, safety and livelihood of sex workers everywhere. Bringing social service sectors into further cooperation with law enforcement effectively expands and downloads policing responsibilities onto other areas of the state. In response to growing rates of police violence in our communities Ontario is seeing a groundswell of support for movements to defund the police and reinvest in community services and supports, Bill 251 ignores this work and instead invests hundreds of millions more into expanding police powers across the province and works to bring other social services into cooperation with local police forces. There are many harmful aspects of Bill 251. Among them:
Ministers are allowed to appoint inspectors for the purposes of this law, who “may, without a warrant or notice, and at any time, enter and inspect any place” to determine compliance with the law and its regulations (regulations will be created once the law has passed).
Inspectors are also granted unfettered powers to examine, demand, remove or copy any “thing that is or may be relevant to the inspection”
Inspectors are allowed to “question a person on any matter that is or may be relevant to the inspection, including questioning a person separate from others.” Non-compliance is a punishable offence, subject to a fine of $50,000 or $100,000 for an individual or corporation, respectively.
Hotels and other rentals (including possibly AirBnB) are required to record all guest information. This information must be shared with the police if demanded, potentially without any court order.
Youth under the age of 18 (including 16-17 year olds) can be detained under this Act ‘for their protection’ and forced to receive social services.
The bill claims to protect victims of trafficking, but we know that expanding police powers and targeting commercial sex work does not support survivors of trafficking, rather it results in the targeted displacement of our communities - particularly queer and trans, Black and Indigenous Communities of Colour. In the midst of a global movement for racial justice that has fundamentally shifted our collective understanding of policing, revealing the ongoing harm local police forces inflict on our communities there is no justification for an additional $300 million investment meant to expand the reach, infrastructure and technologies of policing. Police do not keep us safe - they cause a great deal of harm, and are the source of so much pain, grief and terror in our communities. To this end, we call on the Ontario government to use the $300 million earmarked for this bill to meet the material needs of survivors. Survivors need support, not more policing.
Survivors need investments in their safety, not more cops. Sign the solidarity statement here and help call for an end to this bill!