TORONTO -- The Ontario government has announced new legislation in the fight against human trafficking, focusing on strengthening the protection of exploited children and providing additional tools to law enforcement officers.

Speaking at a news conference held at Queen’s Park on Monday, Premier Doug Ford said the “first of its kind” legislation in Canada builds on the $307 million investment previously made by the province in its anti-human trafficking strategy.

The new legislation and amendments to existing legislation help raise awareness, protect victims, support survivors, and hold offenders accountable, Ford said alongside Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Associate-Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

“The criminals behind human trafficking are the worst of the worst,” he said. “They prey on the young and vulnerable.”

Ford added that Ontario has become a hub for human trafficking with the highest number of police-reported incidents in the country in 2019.

The proposed changes include two new acts and amendments to two acts first announced in 2017. Here is a breakdown of some of the proposed changes:

  • Strengthening the ability of children’s aids societies and law enforcement to protect exploited children
  • Supporting more survivors and people who support them in obtaining restraining orders against traffickers, with specific consideration for Indigenous survivors
  • Increasing government’s ability to collect non-personal data to better understand the impact of the strategy and respond to human trafficking
  • Providing law enforcement with more tools to locate victims and charge traffickers, including increasing penalties and clarifying how and when police services can access information from hotel guest registries

“These legislative changes, if passed, will reinforce the strategy’s key objectives of supporting survivors, protecting children and youth, raising awareness among parents and community partners as well as dismantling criminal networks,” Jones said Monday.

In a news release issued by the Ontario government, the CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aids Societies said the legislation is “a step forward for raising awareness.”

“It is a critical piece to a comprehensive anti-human trafficking approach in Ontario,” Nicole Bonnie said. “OACAS is committed to working collaboratively with the government and we welcome to opportunity to be part of their solution-focused approached.”

According to the government, the average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 13 years old. More than 70 per cent of human trafficking victims identified by police are under the age of 25.

“Our government has been absolutely clear, this despicable crime is completely unacceptable and we are going to do whatever we can to protect our children and youth from this, as well as provide the support victims and survivors need to heal,” Dunlop said Monday.

The $307 million announced as part of the government’s anti-human trafficking strategy last year is a five-year investment.