A woman said she is relieved that police have met with her to discuss events she said had traumatized her family two years ago, as they dealt with threatening neighbours.
Jennifer Dorner said police met with her for two hours at her Park Extension home following an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak program. She told the CBC she tried to get police to investigate the screaming, banging and noisy goings-on she heard coming from the neighbour's house, where a woman alleges she was confined and used as a sex slave for months.
Dorner contacted Daybreak after reading about the trial of five Montreal men for sex trafficking — and realizing some of the events being described in testimony are said to have taken place in the house she now owns.
"I wanted to vomit, to be honest — to hear all these things that were going on that intuitively we knew were happening," Dorner said. "We were trying to do something about it, but we...were totally helpless."
Victim held in 'hell'
Evgueni Mataev, 39, and four co-defendants are on trial on several charges in connection with holding a Missouri woman against her will, engaging in sex trafficking and sexual assault with a weapon.
The woman, identified only as Sandy, has described in court how for the last three months of her captivity, she was held in the modest two-storey Park Extension house against her will, beaten and forced to shoplift.
In her testimony, she described her life in that house as "hell."
Dorner says reading about the trial of the five men "brought back a lot of the memories and frustration of having tried to go to police and not being listened to — not being taken seriously."
Neighbour warned not to go to police
Dorner and her husband moved into the neighbourhood in question in 2009, several months before the incidents described in the trial.
'He essentially told us that if we ever called police again, he would get rid of us and our children,'—Jennifer Dorner, neighbour
She says they first called police in the spring of 2010, after repeated attempts to get their noisy neighbour to turn down loud music in the early hours of the morning failed.
She says she had a toddler and a newborn, and she and her husband had both explained to the man that between the wakeful baby and the loud music, they weren't getting any sleep.
"He essentially told us that if we ever called police again, he would get rid of us and our children," Dorner said. "We took that very seriously."
She said after some debate, she and her husband decided to visit the neighbouring police detachment in Outremont, where they figured they would not be recognized, to seek advice. She said they were told simply to call 911 if they thought they were in danger.
The noise, fighting, yelling and coming-and-going at all hours continued, and eventually, Dorner says, the home's owner disappeared, and a gang of men moved in.
She said garbage piled up on the front and back lawns. There were street fights.
Dorner called 911 again when she heard a woman screaming repeatedly and a man yelling at her. She said police arrived quickly, but what she calls "the cycle of violence" did not stop.
Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière spoke to CBC's Daybreak this morning. He said he couldn't refer directly to the incident because of the related court case.
Lafrenière said while he wanted to defend the work of the police, he didn't want to interfere or jeopardize the trial.
"Cases like that are extremely hard," he said. "She was illegally in Canada and she had been using a different identity," he said in reference to the alleged victim.
'Investigations take time,' says Park Ex councillor
In April 2011 — it turns out from court testimony, just weeks after Sandy escaped her alleged tormenters — Dorner detailed her many attempts to get police to crack down on drug trafficking and other illicit activity she believed was going on in the house in a long email to her city councillor, Mary Deros.
"This has been going on far too long, this torment, this torture is physically and emotionally draining," Dorner wrote. "We are feeling trapped."
"Our fear is that if we continue to call the police and they are not able to act on this, these creeps will attack us," she said.
Deros recalls getting the email from Dorner. She told CBC's Daybreak she gets four to five emails like it every year, and she always alerts the police about a serious security concern.
"Unfortunately, the way our legal system is, some investigations can take time," Deros said. "The police has to acquire all necessary information to be able to make things stick when they make an arrest to make the criminals stay in jail and behind bars."
Deros says she has confidence in the police and their handling of situations like this one.
Ruined house now 'cozy and nice'
Dorner, however, says she felt there were simply no mechanisms in place to help people in her family's situation.
Dorner said she could not in good faith put her home up for sale, as she would be passing on her recalcitrant neighbours to someone else.
In the end, she and her family came up with an original solution.
They put in an offer and bought the house from the owner.
They found it in ruins, with a squatter still crashed out in one room — no running water, holes in the walls and ceilings, doors off their hinges, stains where liquid had run down the walls and dried.
"We now live in that house that has such a horrific memory," Dorner said. "But we've made it cozy and nice."
"I cried quite a bit," she said, upon reading about the testimony from the alleged sex slave who once lived in the house.
She said she wanted to share her story because "the system fails families and women in these situations," and she wishes police had more to offer — concrete advice, resources, even an emergency shelter in which her family could have taken refuge when they feared their neighbours' threats of violence.
"Why didn't they listen at the time?" Dorner asked. "In the process, I lost faith in the system. I would like to see some changes happen for sure, so that situations like this would be dealt with in a very different way."
Government called on to develop human trafficking strategy
Coleen MacKinnon is the co-founder of The Freed, an organization that is working to raise awareness about human trafficking.
She is asking the government to create a provincial strategy to fight human trafficking in Quebec.
"What we need is the resources invested in training and ensuring that we have enough police officers that we can investigate this crime," she said.
MacKinnon said there are currently 77 cases of alleged human trafficking awaiting trial across Canada, including 20 cases in Quebec.
Vulnerable individuals are sometimes recruited from colleges and universities, according to MacKinnon.
She said, for example, a trafficker could approach a young woman going to a CEGEP for the first time, pretending to be a friend.
"[The trafficker] doesn't say I'm going to exploit you. He actually pretends he's a potential boyfriend," Mackinnon said.