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New Ontario legislation would give human trafficking survivors power to sue

Regina’s “Stroll” – the stretch of 5th Avenue where Beatrice Wallace-Littlechief, a survivor of sexual exploitation, was once trafficked, and now works as a co-ordinator with an AIDS program

May Truon/for The Globe and Mai

Human trafficking survivors would be allowed to sue their traffickers under new legislation proposed in Ontario, where about two-thirds of all police-reported cases in Canada occur.

Introduced Wednesday, the Anti-Human Trafficking Act would establish a process for survivors and those at-risk to apply for human trafficking-specific restraining orders.

It would also allow survivors to take their traffickers to civil court, and proclaim Feb. 22 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

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"Human trafficking exploits the most vulnerable people in our communities," Status of Women Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said in a statement. "It is a deplorable crime and we must do everything we can to protect and support survivors. This legislation helps survivors live without fear, and access the services they need to recover."

Progressive Conservative Laurie Scott introduced a private member's bill tackling the same issue last year after consulting with those affected by human trafficking.

"I can't help but think that the government could have and should have acted sooner," she said Wednesday.

"We now finally see the government embracing the changes that stakeholders, including victims' services organizations, police officers and victims themselves have long been calling for."

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The Liberal government in June announced a $72-million strategy to end human trafficking, which includes the creation of a provincial anti-trafficking co-ordination office meant to foster information sharing between police, social services, child welfare and other sectors.

The government also promised at that time to establish a specialized provincial prosecution team to tackle human trafficking cases and advise local Crown attorneys and law enforcement.

New Democrat Peggy Sattler said there was a concerning lack of detail in the Liberals' June announcement. The corridor along Highway 401 has particularly been dealing with human trafficking, reflected in her own community of London, she said.

"London police have reported a shocking spike in the number of women and girls being trafficked, girls whose average age is just 13," Sattler said.

"In only 17 months since July 2015, the London Abused Women's Centre has assisted 158 women and girls who identify as being sex trafficked and sexually exploited."

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