13 human trafficking victims rescued, five people charged in operation led by Mississauga, Brampton cops


Published May 31, 2023 at 11:34 am

Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich speaks to the media on Wednesday morning about a human trafficking investigation that saved 13 victims.

Police say a phone tip received just over one year ago has led to the rescue of 13 human trafficking victims in Mississauga, the recovery of large amounts of cocaine and property, and numerous charges laid against five people.

Peel Regional Police, who led the sweeping, year-long multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed Project Pacific, said at a news conference this morning (May 31) at police headquarters in Mississauga that the initial tip in April 2022 led them to a criminal network operating bawdy houses out of at least one condo complex and other locations in Mississauga.

All 13 victims are of Chinese descent, police say, and were of varying immigration status in Canada and some not yet authorized to work here when they were “manipulated and coerced” into providing sex services for cash.

They have since been rescued from their captors by police and are being provided with all the support services they need in order to recover from their ordeal, Peel police Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich told reporters.

Meanwhile, two Mississauga women (ages 55 and 63), a 71-year-old Mississauga man, a 39-year-old Markham woman and a 59-year-old Milton woman are facing numerous charges related to sex and human trafficking, drugs and other offences.

Police say they anticipate additional charges and more arrests as the probe continues. They also believe there are more victims.

As a result of the probe, police also seized more than $48,000 in property and cash, both Canadian and U.S. currency.

Human trafficking is a fast-rising problem across Canada and specifically in Mississauga and Brampton, where a series of factors make Peel an attractive place for crooks to do human trafficking business.

Milinovich told the news conference that while enforcement of human trafficking is crucial, just as important are the services and support provided immediately and longer term to those rescued from the clutches of the illegal activity.

Also of critical importance is that members of the public play their role in reporting to police any signs of human trafficking they might notice.

“This investigation resulted in saving 13 people and it all started with one phone call from someone who recognized the signs” of what appeared to be human trafficking activity, said Milinovich.

“So, one message I leave you with: Report it if you suspect it.”

Police say if anyone suspects signs of human trafficking, they can call their local police force, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.

The deputy chief added that anyone, particularly those with any number of vulnerabilities, can be targeted by those seeking to profit in the realm of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is something that can happen anywhere to anyone,” Milinovich said. “In many cases, the victims are too afraid to come forward and ask police for help…and (in some cases) they are not aware they are being exploited.”

Det. David Laing, a member of the Peel police Specialized Enforcement Bureau Vice Unit and lead investigator on the case, referred to Project Pacific as a “challenging and complex” investigation.

He said victims were coerced and manipulated by those operating the criminal network and sex services were advertised via the internet.

Leaders of the illegal enterprise continued to benefit financially from the victims, police said.

“One thing (all victims) had in common,” said Laing, “is that they all came to Canada for a better life…and 12 of them were recruited” while in Canada.

He added that the public can play a big role in the fight against human trafficking, and that this case is an example of that.

“One member of our community recognized something that didn’t seem right…saw signs similar to human trafficking and made that call to the Peel police Vice Unit,” said Laing. “It shows the impact one community member can have to save victims.”

Four women are facing various charges in the wake of the investigation.

Yu-Hobley Lan, 63, and Kwai Lin Tso, 55, both of Mississauga, Leung Ngai, 59, of Milton, and Yuan Yuan Zhang, 39, of Markham, are all charged.

Eamonn Handrahan, 71, of Mississauga, was later charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking (cocaine).

The proximity of Mississauga and Brampton to major transportation hubs puts the area at risk for sex trafficking activities. Some 62 per cent of Canadian human trafficking cases originate in the GTA, in part due to access to major highways and Pearson Airport.

In 2022, Region of Peel officials approved a $2.1 million human trafficking plan aimed at protecting those who could be victimized and bringing to justice those who are involved in the criminal activity.

Peel officials and police say human sex trafficking impacts the lives of many people, primarily women, with victims facing long-lasting effects of trauma. The average age of victims is 12 to 24, and Ontario accounts for more than 70 per cent of reported cases in Canada.

In February of this year, it was announced that an Ontario-wide enforcement initiative launched in late 2021 had resulted in numerous arrests and charges laid as of early 2023.

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising