After escaping the largest human-trafficking ring in Canadian history, Tibor Baranyai could have quietly returned to his native Hungary. Instead, he chose to help police and prosecutors take down the criminal organization that forced him to work as a virtual slave on construction sites.
But the 44-year-old’s decision came at a price. He can never go home again – the gang he helped dismantle in Canada is still active in Hungary. He suffers anxiety and insomnia and has heart trouble. The mental stress is so great, he says, that he can’t hold down a job.
And now, his wife and stepdaughter are to be deported to Hungary. They say they have been ordered to leave Canada on Friday.
The federal government has cited the trafficking case in promoting tougher immigration laws, but Mr. Baranyai says he feels the country he helped has let him down.
“I want to say that I feel used. The traffickers used me for my labour, Canada used me as a witness to get a prosecution,” he said in a statement translated by his stepdaughter. “But both Canada and the traffickers would deny me the basic thing I need as a human – to be loved, to love, and be supported by a family that I can see and touch. You would deny those I love safety.”
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was travelling on Thursday and not available to discuss the case with The Globe and Mail, his office said. A spokesman for his department suggested he would not intervene.
Mr. Baranyai’s ordeal began in the fall of 2009. He was working as a bouncer in his hometown of Papa, two hours west of Budapest, when he met a man at a party who told him of a job opportunity in Canada. He would make up to $5,000 a month and have his own apartment.
Mr. Baranyai had long been thinking of leaving Hungary: A Roma, he says he felt threatened by nationalist militias that targeted members of his ethnic group. In documents filed as part of his refugee claim, he describes an incident where fascist thugs invaded the home of a Roma family and beat everyone up.
When he got to Canada, Mr. Baranyai quickly realized something was wrong. At Pearson International Airport, he was met by a man named Ferenc Karadi, who drove Mr. Baranyai to his house in a residential neighbourhood in Hamilton, and locked him in the basement with four other men. If Mr. Baranyai left, Mr. Karadi told him, he would be hunted down and killed. The men were fed table scraps and forced to work long hours without pay.
One January night, Mr. Baranyai broke the lock in the garage of the house, escaped with two other men and called police.
Over the next few months, Mr. Baranyai and the other victims of the trafficking ring lived in constant fear. The police put them up in shelters and safe houses, but no matter where they went, members of the criminal organization found them and tried to coerce them to return.
In late 2010, police arrested the leaders of the group. Eight of them were convicted of human trafficking earlier this year. Mr. Karadi, described in court as a mid-level player in the organization, was sentenced to six years behind bars. When they finish their prison terms, most will be deported to Hungary.
Mr. Baranyai says that one of the few bright spots in his life is Ildiko Dellamario, whom he met on a dating website after fleeing the traffickers. Originally from Budapest, Ms. Dellamario came to Canada in late 2009 with her teenaged daughter, Ildiko Nagy, and settled in Montreal, finding work as a cook in a Hungarian restaurant.
Mr. Baranyai moved to Montreal in the spring of 2011 to be with her; the couple were married later that year.
Mr. Baranyai made a successful refugee claim, but Ms. Dellamario and her daughter were turned down after the immigration and refugee board ruled that they did not face a well-founded fear of persecution. Ms. Nagy said the pair has applied to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but have not had a response.
She and her mother worry that the traffickers Mr. Baranyai helped put away will target them when they return.
“We really think...that we would be in danger in Hungary,” Ms. Nagy said. “We are really afraid to go back.”
While the trafficking case wound its way through the courts, the gang’s associates in Hungary harassed victims’ family members. Mr. Baranyai said a victim’s father was beaten up. A hit man nicknamed “the Killer” was allegedly dispatched from Hungary to assassinate the Crown attorney and RCMP officers involved with the case. He was intercepted before reaching Canada.
Interpol documents paint Mr. Karadi as a long-time criminal with several convictions in Hungary –including causing bodily injury – dating back to 1996. In one case, Interpol said, he extorted thousands of dollars from the operator of a local market by threatening to rape his daughter and kill his family.
Mr. Baranyai said he’s not sure what he will do without his wife. He is scheduled for heart surgery later this month and has relied on Ms. Dellamario to support him.
“I was a strong man once,” he said, “but my experience has left me ruined.”