Thirty-one people have been arrested after a large-scale police investigation into human trafficking and organized crime that spanned multiple Canadian provinces and led to more than 300 charges.
Four police services from Ontario and one from Quebec collaborated on Project Convalesce. Representatives from all five services are providing an update on the investigation from York police headquarters in Aurora, Ont.
York Regional Police (YRP), who cover the area north of Toronto, said in a news release on Wednesday that the project began when two female victims of trafficking contacted them about a suspected pimp.
“The investigation led officers to identify a number of suspects” and ultimately led them to 12 victims, the release said.
The YRP also said the majority of the women came from Quebec, but had been moved “to Ontario and across Canada for sex-trade purposes.”
On Wednesday morning, officials with the York police special victims unit — human trafficking section, Toronto police, Peel police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Quebec integrated human trafficking task force — are providing more details as well as releasing photos and videos taken during the arrests and the execution of search warrants.
York police said they continue to urge human trafficking victims to seek assistance.
“We remain extremely concerned about the appalling levels of violence and victimization of women occurring in these human trafficking rings. We continue to encourage victims of human trafficking to reach out to us for help,” York police Chief Eric Jolliffe said in the release.
“Our trained investigators have been working tirelessly to see that criminals who victimize vulnerable members of our community are held accountable for their actions.”
According to the York police special victims unit’s human trafficking section, victims are forced into the sex trade through violence, threats of violence, coercion and trickery. Human trafficking involves the sexual exploitation of women and underage girls, police said.
“Investigators are willing to speak with anyone involved in the sex trade who may be looking for a way out or who may require assistance to escape these dangerous circumstances,” police said in the release.
The Quebec integrated human trafficking task force is an investigative body involving police forces working together to fight human trafficking networks.
The Sûreté du Québec’s criminal investigations branch organized the task force, which includes representatives from the RCMP, and police forces in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, Gatineau and Longueuil.