Legislation proposed by the Progressive Conservatives would put Manitoba hotel staff and taxi drivers on high-alert for human trafficking, while giving more investigative power to police.
It is also a move sex workers fear will put them at heightened risk.
Bill 40, introduced Thursday by Families Minister Rochelle Squires, would require people working in hotels, providing temporary accommodations or operating a vehicle for hire to immediately report suspected human trafficking to local police.
"This bill creates a duty to report by those who often have a line of sight into exploitation and will make Manitoba a leader with some of the strongest laws in the nation on combating sexual exploitation and human trafficking," Squires said in the chamber.
"This will also help law enforcement garner the tools that they need to stop sexual exploitation of our vulnerable children and youth."
If passed, the legislation would also require hotel operators and online accommodation platforms to collect personal information from guests, including full name, primary residence and other details from regulated identification cards.
The proposed legislation — titled the Hospitality Sector Customer Registry Act and amendments to the Child and Family Services Act and Child Sexual Exploitation Act — would allow police to view guest records kept by hotels and online accommodation providers without a warrant.
Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre executive director Diane Redsky welcomed the proposed legislation, saying it emboldens hoteliers, drivers and others to report suspected human trafficking, while putting those participating in "widespread" trafficking in the hospitality and transportation sectors on notice.
"It gives police more tools to be able to identify those ones we know already are repeat offenders, that continue to use hotels and be able to secure the evidence and be able to show people just how prevalent it is," said Redsky, who led the national task force on sex trafficking of women and girls (2010-15) and works with survivors of human trafficking.
"This new legislation just strengthens and creates more opportunities for the community to be working with police."
Manitoba Hotel Association president Scott Jocelyn said staff at many hotels last year received training on how to spot and respond to human trafficking occurring on their properties. He anticipated the provincial government would be coming forward with legislation to build on its education and awareness programs.
"If there’s a role for us to play in it, (we) want to get involved," Jocelyn said, adding many hoteliers have been looking for additional legislative authority to collect guest information.
As of Friday, association members had not raised significant privacy, compliance or operational concerns related to the legislation, he said.
"If it helps any case, at any time, it’s worth it," Jocelyn said. "As opposed to turning a blind eye, you should bring it someone’s attention and I just can’t think that’s a bad thing."
Meanwhile, the Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition voiced its opposition to the new legislation, saying it reduces safety for individuals engaged in consensual sex work by limiting safe venues.
The group, which advocates for the decriminalization sex work and the rights of workers, said the legislation could force more people to work on the street or from their home, opening them up to harassment and violence.
"While we agree that human trafficking is abhorrent, we absolutely can’t condone this bill, as it will directly harm sex workers operating in the province," the coalition said in a statement Friday.
"This empowers police to conduct invasive and violent raids against sex workers in the name of protecting them — though the reality is the exact opposite and exposes sex workers to harm, criminalization, and mental anguish."
Assembly of First Nations regional chief Cindy Woodhouse said the legislation must not become an "excuse to increase policing of First Nations children and youth." Rather, any proposed legislative changes should focus on individuals and systems contributing to violent conditions.
"First Nations children and youth, particularly those in care, are vulnerable and perpetrators see them as targets — that is why we advocate so fiercely for keeping First Nations children close to home, with their families," Woodhouse said in a statement.
In a statement, the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association also offered support for the proposed legislation, saying the industry is committed to combating human trafficking.
"The taxi industry has also indicated support for a broader initiative that will involve the taxi industry being even more involved in dealing with crime in our city," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Redsky said she is confident the proposed legislation will strengthen and support ongoing strategies to eliminate sex trafficking and exploitation, which are preventable.
"The more people we have looking, watching, responding and being part of the solution and created opportunities for the hotel and taxi sector to be involved in meaningful ways, then we can eradicate this," she said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.