Several Romanian women were lured to Canada with the promise of a better life and then forced to spend their days providing sexual services in illicit massage parlours, police say.
Human-trafficking charges were laid against a Montreal man on Wednesday as part of a longer-term investigation.
The RCMP have only started talking to the victims in recent days and are unsure of how much they actually knew about what awaited them here.
But they say one thing is clear: “They were for coming for a better life in Canada,” said Cpl. Caroline Letang, an RCMP spokeswoman.
The ploy is a familiar one – traffickers tantalize victims with promises of a bright future where they can provide for their families. Once here, victims end up forced into prostitution or petty crimes with limited mobility and find themselves in debt to their captors.
The arrest is latest in a wide-ranging federal investigation into the smuggling of Romanian families that started about a year ago.
Following a handful of arrests over the past few months in Toronto and Cornwall, Ont., police arrested Marius Trifu Miclescu, 38, on Wednesday.
His arrest, and the discovery that certain women were allegedly held as sex slaves, was described by police as another phase of the investigation.
Miclescu faces 16 charges including human trafficking, procurement and living off the avails of prostitution. He briefly appeared in court on Wednesday in Montreal, speaking in hushed tones with a lawyer. He was ordered held until a bail hearing scheduled for Friday.
Letang says four victims were all of Romanian origin. They were allegedly being put to work in illegal parlours in Montreal and Miclescu alone was allegedly behind the scheme.
Letang said such investigations can be quite difficult.
“It is hard because in human trafficking cases victims are very scared of what could happen to them,” Letang said.
“They are usually there because they were forced in a certain way ... so it’s a hard (charge) to follow up in courts.”
How the women got to Canada isn’t entirely clear, although at least two were smuggled into the country.
“We just started to talk with the victims,” Letang said.
A court order forbids Miclescu from contacting any of the victims, whose names and ages were withheld by the police.
At least one of the women has been here for several years. Letang says the women were threatened so that they remained under the network’s control.
Miclescu is one of several arrests under a police operation dubbed “Project Combative.”
It follows the arrest in September of Serafin Cirnaru, 39, of Toronto. Police allege he planned to illegally smuggle Romanian families. He was charged under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and remains detained.
His bail hearing is scheduled for Nov. 4 in Montreal. Two others from Toronto also face charges alleging they organized entry.
Also, three people were arrested in July for allegedly helping a Romanian family into Canada through the Akwesasne Reserve in southwestern Quebec.
Another man from Cornwall, Ont., was arrested by American authorities and remains detained in the United States.
American authorities were also involved in the investigation – including the FBI and other law-enforcement organizations in New York.
Police say other arrests are possible and they are actively searching for at least one other Montreal man who has avoided capture.
Valentin Dumitru, 54, also of Montreal, is actively being sought by police.