By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Despite the break-up of the largest human trafficking ring to date in Canadian history in Hamilton, the problem persists in the city, say law enforcement officials.
“It is happening in Hamilton,” said Assistant Crown Attorney Toni Skarica.
Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews said human trafficking is a hidden crime, where the operations can be set up in upscale neighbourhoods, or in urban areas.
“It is something that is not obvious,” he said.
Toews was attending a news conference June 8 at the Ancaster Mill to praise law enforcement officials, including Skarica, for capturing, and prosecuting a group of human traffickers that held 23 victims in Ancaster homes as slave labour.
Two days previously Toews had announced $25 million over four years to introduce a national program to combat human trafficking, including the creation of a Human Trafficking Task Force and provide education and training for both populations at risk and law enforcement officers.
Other initiatives include a $500,000 fund to help victims and an integrated police unit with the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency, which will receive $2 million this year to investigate human trafficking.
Human trafficking will be added to the Canadian Police College curriculum, enhancing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to identify high risk employers; do more on-site employer visits; and train provincial labour inspectors.
Three people have been sent to prison for the Hamilton human trafficking ring. Nine people have pled guilty this year to human trafficking, and in total 17 people have been convicted. Law enforcement officials have warrants outstanding for three other people.
“This is heart-rending,” said Toews. “It’s physical and emotional abuse.”
It affects every country, he said, with a large part of the trafficking involving the sex trade. But as theHamiltonring revealed, trafficking also involves slave labour. The ring targeted vulnerable men from Hungary who were promised good-paying jobs, but were instead coerced into falsely claiming refugee status and welfare. They were forced to live in basements, and work without pay.
“This sends a strong signal of resolve,” said Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Conservative MP David Sweet, who hosted the event. “These are heinous crimes imaginable (that) leads into a life of slavery.”
As an example that this type of crime can happen anywhere, Sweet said the human trafficking ring occurred five minutes away from the Ancaster Mill, and that he lived five minutes away from the restaurant.
The crime pointed out problems within Canada’s immigration system, said Skarica, which he informed the federal government.
The Canadian government recently introduced changes to immigration and refugees policies based on those loopholes that Skarica talked about.
But the biggest obstacle for cracking these cases, said Toews, is getting the victims to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
“It just goes to show how complex this case was,” said Toews.
To date, there have been only 23 convictions for human trafficking. There are 59 trafficking cases before Canadian courts.
The Canadian government passed criminal laws against human trafficking in 2005. There are an estimated 15,000 trafficking victims inCanada, with most people ending up in the sex trade.