Sex workers in Manitoba concerned over proposed legislation bringing changes to hotels

Sex workers are raising concerns about a proposed law aimed at cracking down on human traffickers who use short-term rentals, saying the move could make things less safe for them.

Last week the province introduced legislation that would mandate hotels and Airbnbs to collect names and addressees of all customers and keep a record of them. This would make it easier for police to track suspected human traffickers who use short-term rentals. Police would have access to the registry with a court order, but could also obtain information from it without a warrant on an urgent basis.

In a statement, the Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition questioned why police would need the increased access without a court order:

“Sex workers use rentals as safer spaces to see clients, and policing these areas further will not add any safety. In fact, we would argue that it decreases safety for sex workers by severely limiting safe places that sex workers conduct their work," the statement reads.

The coalition also has concerns about how the information will be kept secure.

Privacy Lawyer Andrew Buck said securing data like this could be harder to do for smaller businesses with limited resources.

"Anytime we’re collecting more information we always have to be careful and turn our minds toward, ‘how are we going to protect this information (and) for how long will we retain it’," Buck said.

The province said future regulations would spell out how the information is to be secured and for how long it needs to be kept.

When it comes to police getting information from the registry without a warrant, the legislation says a police officer must file a report to a commanding officer on why the demand was made, and a police service must prepare an annual report on the use of the urgent demands.

“The police will have full transparency as to how many records that they have obtained throughout the year, on an annual basis without that order, and why they had to take that extreme measure," Manitoba's Families Minister Rochelle Squires said on Friday.

The province also said the urgent demands would be used infrequently. The province said police currently have limited ability to access information of those at risk of being trafficked, which can lead to a delayed response.