Edmonton police have laid what are believed to be the first human trafficking charges in the city's history after an investigation into an alleged bawdy house in the west end.
"The result of these search warrants were that three women were rescued from what I believe is modern-day slavery," Edmonton police Insp. Danielle Campbell said.
Two women and one man face a number of charges, including human trafficking and living off the avails of prostitution.
After getting a tip, members of Edmonton police, RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency searched Sachi Professional Massage and Spa at 175th Street and 100th Avenue early Saturday morning. They removed three women, ranging in age from 21 to 41, who police believe were victims of human trafficking.
Another search warrant was executed at an apartment at 69th Avenue and 199th Street belonging to a person connected to the business.
The massage parlour was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While the doors were locked at 11 p.m., the women were expected to answer the phone and make arrangements with clients around the clock, said Edmonton Vice Section Det. Dave Schening.
'They ate, drank and slept in the room that they worked in.' —Edmonton Police Det. Dave Schening
"They ate, drank and slept in the room that they worked in," Schening said. "This is a massage room with a massage table. Their belongings were in that room with them. Everything they owned consisted of a suitcase."
A small room at the back of the business contained a hot plate, a fridge and a shelving unit.
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.
They were told they were free to leave, but if they did, their families would be told about what they were really doing in Edmonton, Shening said.
The women are now in the care of social service agencies in Edmonton.
Mei Fang Chen, 33, and Xiu Zheng Chen, 32, both face two counts of trafficking persons, two counts of living off the avails of prostitution, two counts of exercising control, direction, or influence over a person for the purposes of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy house and possession of the proceeds of crime over $5,000.
Qui Wang, 41, faces two counts of living off the avails of prostitution, two counts of exercising control, direction, or influence over a person for the purposes of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy house, possession of the proceeds of crime over $5,000 and assault with a weapon causing bodily harm.
All three are scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 21.