Investigation of teen forced into sex trade leads to Toronto human trafficking bust

After a six-month investigation, Durham Regional Police carried out early morning police raids Monday in Toronto for two suspected sex traffickers. CBC News was there as one was conducted.

CBC News was present when officers conducted police raids in Toronto

During police raids Monday, members of Durham and Toronto police enter a building in Toronto where a suspected sex trafficker lives. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

At 3:15 a.m. Monday, members of Durham Regional Police's human trafficking unit gather with a dozen plainclothes undercover officers at the force's headquarters in Oshawa, Ont., to go over arrest warrants and planned takedowns of two suspected sex traffickers in Toronto. 

"We have two locations this morning, and there's information about firearms at both places. So be careful," said Det. Dave Davies, who leads the briefing and police raids that a CBC News crew was invited to attend and shoot without revealing some of the officers' identities.

Another unidentified officer goes through the list of duties with all the officers.

"We will meet just north of the first address," he said. "The one address has been done before, so just keep that in mind."

CBC News rides along with Durham Regional Police who are heading to Toronto to carry out simultaneous police raids where two alleged sex traffickers live. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

This investigation started over six months ago when a 16-year-old girl went to Durham Region's victim services, saying she had been lured on the popular social media app Snapchat and forced into the sex trade.  

All of the gathered evidence points to two women who are suspected of working for a pimp now in jail. There are arrest warrants for them at two different Toronto residences. They may even be former victims who have turned into recruiters in the sex trade — a common occurrence police officers and victim services see time and time again in sex trafficking.

Davies tells the officers that it's the tactical support unit that will remove the suspects from the residences, "and they are going straight to transport."

"Does anyone have any questions? Ask them now because it's going to get hectic," he said.

Watch: Det. Davies on preparing and carrying out a police raid

Det. Davies on preparing and carrying out a police raid 0:28

The officers grab their bullet-proof vests and head out in several unmarked vehicles to the two Toronto locations. A CBC News crew, including reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis, cameraman Ousama Farag and producer Jennifer Barr, joins Davies and Det. Sgt. Sean Sitaram in one of the vehicles, going down a snowy Highway 401 heading into Toronto.

Watch: How human-trafficking investigations affect police

Police are human, too. Det. Dave Davies explains how these investigations can get to them. Sgt. Sean Sitaram says a lot of the officers have daughters and that it makes them think of their own families. 1:13

The officers first stop at a Toronto police division to meet up with a uniformed and heavily armed tactical support unit that will assist with the arrests. As Davies pointed out earlier, these search warrants can often turn ugly, and there may be firearms at both locations.

As they wait in the car around the corner from one of the addresses, Davies's phone rings, and he gets the call that the suspect is home and gives the orders for the tactical team to enter the first residence. Roumeliotis asks how dangerous it could be.

Watch: Det. Davies on how dangerous police raids can be

Det. Davies on how dangerous police raids can be 0:18

At around 5 a.m., they arrive outside the suspect's apartment above a barbershop. The police enter the building, and the tactical unit also heads in with a trained paramedic in case of any injuries sustained during the arrest.

Davies goes into the apartment where the suspect lives with a few members of her family. Some time goes by as the police remain inside questioning her and gathering evidence. This time, no firearms are found on site.

A 20-year-old woman is arrested, and she faces 12 charges, including trafficking in persons under the age of 18, child pornography, robbery and pointing a firearm.  

The officers spend about an hour collecting evidence at the location.

Two undercover officers with the handcuffed suspect leave the apartment.

During a police raid Monday, a woman is arrested in Toronto. She faces faces 12 charges, including trafficking in persons under the age of 18, child pornography, robbery and pointing a firearm, (Ousama Farag/CBC)

She sees CBC's cameraman and immediately puts her head down in her coat, and they escort her to the backseat of an unmarked police vehicle.

She is taken away to face a bail hearing later in the morning.

It turns out the other suspect wasn't home, so no arrest was made at the second location.

The police continue to look for her and two other suspects in the case, and the investigation is ongoing.

Watch: Det. Davies on the raids and making a difference

After the suspect's arrest, Det. Dave Davies provides a synopsis of the takedowns and discuss whether police are making a difference. 0:44

About the Author

Jennifer Barr is a producer with The National.