Human trafficking on the rise in nearby region

February 26, 2014   ·   0 Comments

After a near-two month investigation labeled ‘Project Home for Christmas,’ York Regional Police Drugs and Vice Unit used a press conference last week to announce details of the initiative that led to the discovery of 31 girls and women who were working at hotels and condos in the area.

“Eradicating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children remain the priority of the York Regional Police,” said Insp. Keith Merith. “Focus of our enforcement in the area is victim based because we realized that people who are committing sexual acts for money are often the victims of crimes themselves through the violence, the threats of violence, the trickery and coercion.”

Police said of the 31 girls and women interviewed, nearly 30 per cent were under the age of 18 and that the average age of when they entered the industry was 14.

“We have seen a rise in the prostitution of women in the Region of York and we would like to send a clear message that recent changes in prostitution legislation do no relate to juveniles or those involved in sex trade industry against their will,” Merith said. “York Regional Police have realized that in order to fully assist the victims of human trafficking, we need to assist in providing support and alternate opportunities in life for these young people, some of them who have been brave enough to come forward.”

Det. Sgt. Peter Casey said a main focus of the initiative was to identify those in the industry and help them get out of their current location to home or a place of safety, which Casey said is what happened for all of the juveniles interviewed.

Only 10 per cent of the women were from York Region, with most coming from other parts of Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.

YRP also provided information on the arrests of 10 men since as a result of investigations that came to conclusion in January and released photos of three men in particular to encourage other victims who still may be out there with information to come forward.

• Anthony Putzu ‘Flex’ 21 of Brampton is accused of charges including human trafficking, material benefit, forcible confinement and obtaining sexual services of a person under 18 years old. Casey said one of the two victims in this case was 16 years old.

• Lucas Gabrys, 24, from the London area, is also accused of human trafficking.

• Mohamed Wehelie, 28, from Toronto, has been accused of being part of a violent sexual assault on a sex trade worker.

Police said these charges against the accused are not necessarily connected to the 31 women found in Project Home for Christmas, but Casey said it is indicative of a much larger issue in the area.

“To say that there’s an actual increase could in part be to the fact that our team is focused at helping younger, vulnerable and under aged individuals in the sex trade,” he said. “It basically means that we’re digging deeper into what’s going on out there and this is what we’re finding.

“What we’re trying to show here, is when the inspector spoke of a multifaceted mandate there’s one end of it where we’re doing our best to assist victims of crime either before the fact or even after the fact and we also have the other side where we are out there locating the accused, putting them before the courts and hopefully putting them in jail.”

Police believe there are likely more victims out there and are asking anyone with more information to contact the York Regional Police Drugs and Vice Unit immediately.

By Jeff Doner

Photo by Jeff Doner Det. Sgt. Peter Casey of the York Regional Police Drugs and Vice Unit addresses the media regarding ongoing human trafficking in the area last week.

Photo by Jeff Doner
Det. Sgt. Peter Casey of the York Regional Police Drugs and Vice Unit addresses the media regarding ongoing human trafficking in the area last week.




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