On a tip, police, RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency last week removed three women, aged 21 to 41, from an Edmonton massage parlour and charged two women and a man with human trafficking and other offences.
The women came to Canada legally — one from Beijing and two from Fiji — after answering an ad in a newspaper that promised jobs in the massage industry. Once they arrived, their identification papers were taken from them, police said of the Edmonton case.
On Friday, at a workshop in Calgary, former sex slave Timea Nagy spoke about her experience 11 years ago, when she came to Toronto from her native Hungary.
"I still feel like they're going to take me 11 years later," Nagy said of the three men — one Canadian and two Hungarians— who waited for her at the Toronto airport when she answered a newspaper ad seeking women to work in Canada.
Nagy said they drove her to a strip club, and forced to become an exotic dancer and perform sexual acts for a period of two months. She earned thousands of dollars for her captors and when she threatened to leave, they threatened to kill her and her mother.
Not just foreigners
"It could happen to anyone," she said. "You don't have to be a foreign person.
"You could be living in your mom's house. All you have to do is answer a stupid ad. Or go with a guy who tells you that he loves you. They'll take you to another city and you have no way of coming back."
Nagy eventually escaped and was able to turn her life around. Today, she works as a front-line worker for the Salvation Army.
She is travelling across the country, telling police officers her story to make them more aware of human trafficking situations.
Garry Drummond, of the RCMP's human trafficking unit, said the recent Edmonton charges have given police across Canada confidence they can intervene and stop the persecution of women who may be sold into sex slavery.
"Now that we have a human trafficking law in the Criminal Code, we can start giving that quantified response," he said.
Human trafficking has been outlawed in Canada since 2005. The RCMP estimated in that year that 600 women and children are trafficked into Canada each year for sexual exploitation and 800 are trafficked for other purposes such as the garment industry and the drug trade.
A private member's bill is currently before Parliament that would provide mandatory minimum sentences for anyone convicted of trafficking children under 18 for sexual purposes.