The IJFS was officially launched today at Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters in Orillia. Members of the OPP, Barrie Police Service (BPS) and Kingston Police Force (KPF) represented the 21 police services involved in the strategy.
Project WRIGG was one of two human trafficking investigations that were highlighted to showcase the cooperative work of the IJFS. and the complexity of human trafficking in Ontario.
On January 5, 2021, Kingston Police initiated an investigation into the sexual assault and trafficking of a female victim across Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton from December 2019 to January 2020.
As Detective Inspector Jennifer Patton of the OPP explained, Kingston Police “began the investigation into the sexual assault and trafficking of a female across Toronto, the GTA, and the Edmonton area, and then with the support of the IGFs and myself assigned as the case manager, we were able to do a more extensive investigation, using all of the IJFS resources and partnerships to be able to identify further suspects, additional victims, and gather evidence that extended past the Kingston area.”
Project WRIGG was managed under the IJFS, supported by the OPP Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch. The investigation identified several potential victims residing throughout Ontario and Quebec.
As a result of the investigation, four suspects were arrested in October 2021. Assistance was provided by police partners in Quebec, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
Four men from the province of Quebec, Carlens John Slee Jacquet (21), Carl-Henri Zamor-Louis (23), Ralph Marc Lauren Andre (23), and Benson Pierre (24), are charged with 43 Criminal Code offences, including Trafficking in Persons, Material Benefit Resulting From Trafficking in Persons, Material Benefit From Sexual Services, Obstruct Police Officer, Personation With Intent to Avoid Arrest, Failing To Comply with Undertaking, and Sexual Assault. All four remain in custody awaiting upcoming Dec. 2021 and Jan. 2022 Court dates.
Of the original Kingston victim, Det Insp. Patton said not much can be revealed in the interest of protecting the victim, “but what I can say is that victims who are identified to police often don’t don’t step up and [self] identify and say ‘I’m the victim of human trafficking.’”
“But,” she continued, “sometimes there are other occasions where police interact with them for other reasons, and then recognize the signs or a disclosure is made and, in this case, the victim presented themselves to Kingston police and made the disclosure to Kingston police. And then we moved on from there to the multi-jurisdictional joint forces investigation.”
Asked about the care and concern for the victims of human trafficking once an investigation is underway, Patton explained, “Anytime a victim is identified, whether or not that victim wants to participate in an investigation and whether or not charges are laid, we would employ the assistance of victim services and our victim-centred approach team to support that person and make sure that they’re connected to appropriate community resources that are local.”
“If the victim happened to live in the Kingston area,” she pointed out, “we would tap into your local resources there. I’m familiar with your Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington human trafficking coalition, that’s another great resource you have in your area where a number of people from the community have representation on that coalition and are able to guide in different directions where some of that local community support would be available, and our victim services person or our victim-centred approach liaison would tap into some of those services to make sure that the victim is in a safe place, and that they have resources to support them to move on from being involved in this horrific crime.”
Human trafficking in Kingston
In an interview later in the day, Constable Jesse Braun of the Kingston Police discussed the issue locally in more depth.
“The important part [to highlight] about this investigation was that it just started from a phone call to the Kingston police,” he explained. “Sometimes victims don’t know what to do and the situation can seem just so vague and hard to understand, and there are strong emotions victims are going through. It’s going to be complicated, but in this case, it was just started with the first step of a phone call to Kingston Police. And then from there, we launched an intel probe on the police side of things and that’s how the investigation began.”
“So, if there are other victims out there that might read your article,” he continued, “the first step is always reaching out to somebody, whether it be police or one of the other support networks available. I think in this case there were friends and family that might have suggested calling us. Calling the police was the first big step that we needed to identify this organization or network of human traffickers.”
It’s also important to know that the Kingston area is not isolated from this kind of human trafficking, Braun expressed. “I think most of the public would be surprised at how widespread it is. It’s just something that you don’t actually see unless you look for it, and it can be really well hidden.”
This, he explained, is because the crime is mostly conducted online since the advent of the smartphone.
“When I was hired by the Kingston police in 2005, a young female police constable might disguise herself as a sex worker on Montreal Street and that was kind of what a human trafficking sting might look like,” Braun shared.
“But now, just with a digital camera, access to the internet, and the various platforms, a pimp can easily recruit girls from the luxury of his own bed: go through the entire recruiting, take pictures of the girl, place an ad on one of the advertisement websites. You can book your hotel or your Airbnb. You can rent your vehicle, get your plane tickets. You can receive money transfers from clients. All of this stuff is now possible because of that cell phone.”
He also explained that much of the recruiting of young women and children is done digitally on social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat.
In a phone call upon her return from Orillia, Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely added, “It is very important to have a collaborative effort on these cases. They’re so complex, and they really need a trauma-informed approach in terms of when you’re doing investigations and gaining trust from victim-survivors and these kinds of cases.”
“That’s important for us,” she said, “to really make sure that we’re educating our community about crimes to look for, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that.”
In partnership with victims services, Kingston police have been working to educate hotel and accommodation industry staff members, as well as members of the transportation industries, and staff at On Route stops along Highway 401, McNeely pointed out, noting they are “really trying to educate people on what to look for and to call the police.”
Training has also been offered to local school boards, she said, “through some grant funding that we had involving our own officers, counsellors, people from the school board, and that was to really to educate kids in the schools, from grade seven to 12, as well as kids that are not part of the education system… and increase the knowledge of what happens and the kinds of grooming that occurs with respect to human trafficking.”
A list of signs of human trafficking victims can be found on the website of The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. The website also has resources available for victims and survivors of human trafficking, and a national hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-833-900-1010. An OPP human trafficking resource guide is available at opp.ca/humantrafficking.
ABOUT THE IJFS
On March 6, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced funding in order to establish the IJFS, consisting of full-time investigators and analysts who will be assigned to participating police agencies across Ontario, including municipal and First Nations agencies, along with additional resources to the OPP. The IJFS will assist in identifying, investigating, and disrupting multi-jurisdictional human trafficking organizations operating within Ontario.
The 21 participating police agencies include Anishinabek, Awkwesasne, Barrie, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Niagara, OPP, Ottawa, Peel, Peterborough, Six Nations, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Treaty Three, Waterloo, Windsor, and York.
Also in January 2021, the Barrie Police Service (BPS) Human Trafficking Unit initiated an investigation into a male party suspected of trafficking an adult female in Barrie. The IJFS supported the investigation, named Project HARWICH, and it was revealed that several victims were trafficked out of hotels in the area by two individuals.
On May 19, 2021, the BPS Tactical Unit, BPS Crime Unit and IJFS members from BPS and OPP executed search warrants in Barrie. As a result of the investigation, two suspects were arrested, charged with eight Criminal Code offences, and evidence was seized. One of the suspects was arrested on May 19, 2021, and the other was arrested on November 13, 2021.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, explained that the two aforementioned investigations, “show that the new Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy is working in identifying, investigating, and disrupting multi-jurisdictional human trafficking organizations operating in the province. The increasing volume and the complexity of human trafficking cases require additional support and partnerships at all levels in the communities we serve to reduce victimization and hold traffickers accountable for their crime.”
“On behalf of the Kingston Police,” Chief McNeely concluded, “I am pleased we are a part of the new Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy. Human Trafficking is a crime that impacts and exploits vulnerable members of our communities and this strategy highlights the importance of multi-jurisdictional collaboration – a shared responsibility – to disrupt human trafficking organizations. Project WRIGG is one such example of a successful investigation that hit close to home for us, as it involved the transportation of victims throughout Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, and culminated in the arrest of four individuals, holding them accountable for their crimes.”
Anyone with information pertaining to these investigations — Project WRIGG and Projec HARWICH — please contact the OPP, BPS or Kingston Police. In an emergency, always call 9-1-1.