On 5 May 2021, MPP Anand spoke about the “Combatting Human Trafficking Act, 2021”

Mr. Speaker, I’m usually a cheerful person. I usually start my debates by saying, “I’m happy to rise and speak in the Legislature today.” But I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, today, learning about human trafficking, some of these statistics are heartbreaking.

I’m speaking with mixed emotions, and I’ll tell you why: The fact that there has been 1,800 police-reported cases of human trafficking in the last decade nationwide is disgusting. And that 97% of these cases were women and girls, and 45% of the cases were survivors between the ages of 18 and 25. Mr. Speaker, can you imagine, out of that, a further 28% were below the age of 18 and as young as 13 years old? I do remember when I was about 13 or 15 years old, all I had on my mind was what I was going to do to conquer this world. Thinking about those young kids at the age of 13 who have gone through these heinous crimes—that makes me sad; that makes me angry. I want to remind everybody that these are not numbers; these are humans, these are children—our children—and that makes me feel heartbroken and enraged.

Mr. Speaker, talking about human trafficking, I want to see what is included in the definition, so I want to read it for you and for everybody: Human trafficking is the recruiting, transferring, concealing or exercising control of a person—and I’ll repeat the words: exercising control of a person. And it goes beyond sexual exploitation. It includes forced labour and it sometimes includes organ trafficking as well. Survivors do not necessarily need to be moved from one location to another to be trafficked. It happens at their home and in their hometown.

I want to take this time to also raise awareness of some of the signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking; for example, the person is unfamiliar with their environment, has unrealistic employment offers, is distrustful of authority, shows fear or anxiety when being questioned, and shows signs of being controlled mentally or physically.

When we talk about the children, these signs include having little or no access to parents or guardians, or to friends of their age outside work or school. So I want to tell the community: If you see these signs, please reach out to the authorities, or reach out to those individuals and tell them that help is available—help like Peel Children’s Aid Society which has their headquarters in my riding.

I want to share an example of how working together can help overcome challenges like this, Mr. Speaker. Peel CAS has been supporting a 16-year-old girl and their family, and now she is a survivor of trafficking by her boyfriend. Her own boyfriend was grooming the young woman for the sex trade. Mr. Speaker, this is disgusting. After educating the girl on the dangers of her current position, thankfully she was fortunately able to hide herself in the mall bathroom one day, contacted her Peel CAS worker and mall security and Peel police, and got the safety she needed. Thankfully, I’m glad to say that she’s fine and she’s safe, and she’s pursuing a wonderful career today.

We need more education, more control and more collaboration, and I’m happy to say that is why we need to implement the recommendations from Bill 251. I’m happy to be a part of a government that is taking action and that I’m able to contribute on this important issue.

Mr. Speaker, the bill is called the Combating Human Trafficking Act, and I found it a little bit interesting. I was thinking in my mind, if we have to give it another name, we could probably call it combating inhumans as well.

This bill is personally relevant and important to the community members in my riding, and I’ll tell you the reason for that. But before I do that, I want to thank my colleague the member from Mississauga Centre, with whom we visited Hope 24/7 last year. It was heartbreaking to talk about and know about the experiences of sexual, interpersonal or intimate partner violence. Hope 24/7 is just one of the many Peel region community partners who are working actively to combat human trafficking in my area. When I reached out to the Peel CAS, Rav Bains said, “Peel CAS works closely with our community partners and the government of Ontario to support survivors and strengthen protections for vulnerable children and youth. We are pleased to see Bill 251 moving this important conversation forward, and we welcome all efforts to tackle this issue and bring an end to human trafficking.”

Mr. Speaker, aside from the great community organizations in my area, the bill is also personally relevant to my community because, as per the region of Peel police, 62% of Canadian human trafficking cases actually originate in the GTA. According to the Peel Institute on Violence Prevention, the per capita rate of police-reported human trafficking in Peel was 44% higher in 2016. We think of Toronto as a big, large city. Well, the issue is very serious there, but if you really look at Peel, it is even more serious and bigger.

I understand one of the reasons could be because we have access to all the highways. We have Pearson International Airport. But thankfully, the GTAA and the CBSA are working actively to curb human trafficking at the airport. I’m glad to state that our partners at the CBSA are fighting human trafficking through many ways, including conducting pre-arrival risk assessments to identify possible victims and traffickers before they arrive, conducting immigration security screening of those claiming temporary or permanent residence, and by sharing intelligence with local and international partners across the world.

Mr. Speaker, when I was writing this speech, my heart cried, not just as an MPP or a community member but as a father, as a human being. It really shook me to my core, and I want to thank everybody who has been involved in this bill for having the courage and doing the right thing.

Bill 251 builds on our five-year strategy to combat human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, backed by an investment of up to $307 million. This strategy, announced on March 6 last year, takes a comprehensive and proactive approach with action across government to raise awareness of the issue, protect victims, intervene early, support survivors and hold offenders accountable.

In my riding of Mississauga–Malton, I have 20,000 international students, and many of them either lost their jobs, did not qualify for the federal benefits, and do not have a family. Many of them don’t even know English as their first language, and they’re the ones who are facing such challenges. I want to tell those parents of those students who live in my riding that I am going to be at some peace, knowing that they’re safer—and thanks to Bill 251, schedule 1, which requests hotels and other businesses of a prescribed class to record the names, residences and other prescribed information in a register.

I would also like to share with the House and the community that the bill was created, together, from the experience and expertise of survivors, front-line service providers, Indigenous communities, Indigenous-led organizations, law enforcement and advocates and champions for victims and survivors.

Speaker, I personally want to thank each one of these contributors. Many of you have gone through the intense pain caused by human trafficking yourself. Thank you for your courage in speaking out and providing us with the support so that no one else has to go through similar pain that you have gone through. Thank you so much.

Mr. Speaker, I’m quickly going to read some of the quotes from the stakeholders. Nicole Bonnie, the CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, said, “This legislation is a step forward for raising awareness, and it is a critical piece to a comprehensive anti-human trafficking approach in Ontario.”

These comments and many others were reflected and incorporated in Bill 251. For an example, section 5 of schedule 2 of the bill clearly lays out the principle our AHT strategy as follows: The strategy devised shall be trauma-informed, survivor-centred, culturally responsive, intersectional, informed by evidence and aimed at root causes.

Of course, I also want to give a special shout-out to my colleagues who have worked so hard on this bill: the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues; the Solicitor General; the Attorney General; the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries; and, of course, the member from Mississauga Centre and the member from Etobicoke–Lakeshore. Thank you for your leadership. They led various components of this proposed legislation.

I’m particularly proud of Bill 251’s requirement for all future Ontario governments to maintain an anti-human trafficking strategy and support a sustained, long-term response to combat human trafficking. This requirement would be the first of its kind in Canada and position Ontario as a leader in anti-human trafficking efforts in the country.

Mr. Speaker, issues like this take time to solve, but I am glad to say this: Making sure to have this component will make sure that this will always be on our radar. It would mean that any government, regardless of political stripe, would be required to continue working towards eliminating human trafficking in the province and supporting the victims and the survivors.

Under schedule 3 of Bill 251, we also included proposed amendments to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act to help better protect children and youth from trafficking. These proposed changes are important new measures that would strengthen the authority of children’s aid societies and law enforcement to intervene in child sex trafficking cases, discourage traffickers from interfering with children in the care of a children’s aid society and promote consistent responses across the province.

Our government has actively worked to ensure there are numerous supports to ensure the root causes of human trafficking are also addressed, directly into the community agencies. This way, young women and children will absolutely not be afraid to step up and report, because they know there will be a strong, loving network to support them at every step of the way. For an example, last year, our Attorney General announced additional funding into the Victim Quick Response Program+ in order to help survivors cover essential expenses such as accommodation, meals, transportation, dental care and mobile phones. There was additional funding into the Vulnerable Victims and Family Fund to cover key court-related expenses for human trafficking survivors. These are comprehensive expenses, including courtroom-appropriate attire, costs associated with meals and travel—and not to mention the 27 hard-working community organizations that have received $40 million in funding under the anti-human trafficking strategy. I’m proud to say one of these is the region of Peel, which has received over $3 million to provide an integrated service hub for children and youth named nCourage.

This morning, Councillor Downey, a member of the Peel Anti-Human Sex Trafficking Task Force, informed me that through this community support grant, this hub will offer “primary health care, trauma counselling, addictions support, legal aid, education, and employment services.” This complements their existing work of providing safe and transitional housing for survivors, including a safe emergency house that opened in April 2015 and a transitional house that is scheduled to open in 2021.

Our government has directly invested in community supports under the AHT strategy to ensure that we tackle the root cause, and we will continue to monitor the progress of our efforts to ensure that every dollar is having a maximum impact and we can remove this heinous crime out of our society.

Mr. Speaker, as I speak towards wrapping up my debate, I want to acknowledge that if or when this bill passes, our work is not done. It simply means that we need to continue to stay alert and keep working.

I just want to quickly talk about the snapshot. Over 70% of the victims of human trafficking are identified by the police at age 25. The average age of recruitment is 13 years old. The vast majority of reported cases involve sexual exploitation and labour trafficking. More than 90% of the reported victims of human trafficking in Canada actually come from Canada.

As I said at the beginning of the speech, I mentioned a series of statistics regarding the prominence of human trafficking both in the GTA and in our country. But I want to compare this with an iceberg. If you really look at an iceberg, all you see from a distance is a little part of it, but the majority of that iceberg is under the water. The numbers which I stated, the numbers we talked about, are just like an iceberg. There is a large portion of the crime which is not visible, that is hidden, invisible and unknown, and that’s a scary prospect.

We understand that human trafficking is an ever-evolving operation and these criminals will stop at nothing to continue their crimes. That is why schedule 2 of Bill 251 is very clear in ensuring that we have frequent and regular reviews of the Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy. Section 4 and section 3 of this schedule state that the appropriate ministry shall consult community organizations, different levels of government, survivors or victims of trafficking and communities most affected by trafficking when devising this strategy. This will ensure that our government and our provincial strategy will always be ahead of the human traffickers, and then we will never be behind the curve. This heinous crime should be stamped out in the province of Ontario and from this world forever. I’m so glad to be part of the government that is working actively to combat human trafficking, and I thank again all the community partners and everyone who has contributed to this consultative effort.

The growing awareness is a powerful weapon on our side. After years of operating in a shadow, a light—a bright light—is being shone on the traffickers committing these crimes and the victims and survivors who need our help. Now is not the time to let up, but to double down on our efforts to drive this criminal activity from our province and protect more people from falling prey to it.

And so I point to the measures in Bill 251 as a way to ensure that we’ll keep the momentum on our side and we will keep our young people safe and secure. So I urge everyone on both sides: Let’s work together and let’s support Bill 251, as I am going to do.