Eight people were arrested in the GTA on Thursday on 44 human trafficking-related charges, including several suspects police identified as members of Toronto's Galloway Boys street gang.
Six men and two women, including three youths, have been charged in connection with a "large sexual human trafficking and prostitution ring" that has exploited girls 14 to 17 years old since 2013. Police executed 11 search warrants in early morning raids as part of a year-long investigation called Project Dove.
The Galloway Boys gang is known to operate near Galloway Road and Danzig Street, Toronto Police Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said on Friday. Police are still seeking four suspects with outstanding arrest warrants.
"It is alleged that suspects in the investigation recruited these young girls, exploited them, and forced them to work as prostitutes operating out of various hotel and motel locations across the city of Toronto, through Durham Region, Peel Region and into Montreal," Inspector Beaven-Desjardins said.
She said gang involvement in human trafficking is not uncommon as gang members realize how lucrative it can be, and that it was not unusual that the suspects operated throughout the GTA and across a provincial border.
"It's one of the techniques [traffickers] use to avoid detection. They go from one province to another, one side of Canada to another. This particular group mainly was in Ontario and into Montreal."
Fewer than 10 victims have come forward in Project Dove, Inspector Beaven-Desjardins said.
"At this time, we are appealing to the public for their assistance as we believe there are further victims relating to this human trafficking investigation," she said.
Covenant House, an agency for homeless youth, has collaborated with the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit over the past several years. According to Michele Anderson of Covenant House, the shelter in Toronto sees about 12 victims of trafficking each year – "the tip of the iceberg," she said.
"Homeless youth would be some of the most vulnerable to be trafficked. They are without support and they're on the street, and the traffickers know this," she said. "They will befriend them much like a boyfriend, girlfriend relationship, and within a short time the trafficker is making demands on the girl. There's a lot of violence involved, and control."
On May 26, Tyrone Burton, 30, became the first person in Toronto to be convicted of human trafficking. Mr. Burton was arrested in December, 2012. Police said that he controlled the movements of two women, aged 19 and 21, and withheld their earnings as prostitutes.