criminal investigation

More Than 300 Charges Laid in Human Trafficking Investigation ‘Project Convalesce’

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Earlier this month, York Regional Police laid more than 300 charges and arrested 31 people as part of “Project Convalesce”, a multi-provincial human trafficking and organized crime investigation.  Approximately 100 of these charges were related directly to human trafficking.

WHAT IS PROJECT CONVALESCE?

In October 2018, two female victims of human trafficking from Quebec contacted police after attempting to escape a hotel in Vaughan.  York Regional Police began an investigation focused on suspected pimp, Jonathan Nyangwila (“Nyangwila”).  Investigators identified a number of suspects involved in various crimes of human trafficking, fraud, drug trafficking and weapons offences run by organized crime.

Nyangwila, a 28-year old from Markham, also known as Zoulou or Skulls, has been described as the “kingpin” at the top of a complicated and sophisticated criminal hierarchy.  Underneath Nyangwila were several “figureheads”, including three of his brothers.  A group of “underbosses” were positioned under the figureheads.  There were several also “strikers” positioned under the underbosses, whose responsibility it was to carry out high-risk frauds in banks and stores. 

It is alleged that the suspected criminal organization made fake identifications to purchase pre-paid credit cards that were then used to pay for expenses to run the human trafficking scheme such as hotel fees, travel and food.

Inspector Thai Truong stated:

Jonathan Nyangwila has been identified as the kingpin of the organization.  … All below him are individuals that have their own stable of girls.  But for the first time, we’re actually seeing girls being traded within, and girls being controlled by other individuals for the benefit of the organization.

Nyangwila is facing more than 30 charges relating to human trafficking, instructing the commission of an offence for a criminal organization, participating in the activities of a criminal organization, uttering threats, firearms possession, harassment and fraud.  He was arrested in July, yet continued to run his criminal operation from jail.

On October 10, 2019, following a full year of police investigation involving four police services from Ontario and one from Quebec, arrest and search warrants were executed in more than 30 locations across the Greater Toronto Area and in Quebec.

Investigating officers identified 12 victims and have information that there are 33 additional women involved in the sex trade and found to be associated with the suspects.  Most of the women involved were from Quebec and had been transported to Ontario and across Canada for the purpose of the sex trade.  The victims ranged in age from 20 to their mid-30s.  The women were found to perform sex acts seven days a week, earning approximately $1,000 a day, and passing on these monies to those that individuals that controlled them.

This investigation remains active and ongoing as police are hopefuly that the 33 additional women will come forward to seek assistance and support. 

York Region Deputy Chief Brian Bigras stated:

These victims endured violent assaults, sexual assaults and other degrading circumstances as they were controlled by these violent criminals.

WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, approximately 225,000 victims of trafficking have been identified worldwide between 2003 and 2016.

Human trafficking is a crime that exploits and manipulates women, children and men for the purposes of forced labour or sexual services.  Women are often the target of this crime. 

Those trafficking in humans often recruit and groom their victims by becoming a close friend or boyfriend.  Once traffickers lure their victims, they then coerce them into sex work, using psychological manipulation, threats, addiction, violence and isolation.

Police report that marginalized youth, Indigenous youth and youth experiencing homelessness are most often targeted.  Youth who struggle with low self-esteem, bullying, poverty, abuse and family issues are also pursued.

Traffickers often recruit girls online, at malls, high schools, libraries, group homes, bus stops, and parties at hotels.

Victims of this type of crime feel alone, isolated and trapped and have no way to return home.  They become entirely dependent on the trafficker to survive.

THE CRIMINAL OFFENCE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Human trafficking is an offence found in the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The CC includes four indictable offences to address human trafficking, including:

  • Trafficking in persons (section 279.01);
  • Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years (section 279.011);
  • Receiving financial or material benefit knowing it results from the commission of an offence under sections 279.01 and 279.011 (section 279.02); and 
  • Withholding or destroying documents (section 279.03). 

There are many other offences contained in the CC that also apply to human trafficking cases including kidnapping, forcible confinement, uttering threats, extortion, assault, sexual assault, prostitution related offences and criminal organization offences.

If you have been charged with human trafficking or a related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.  We are available when you need us most.