Winnipeg police join forces with FBI to crack down on human trafficking
16 people who were working in the sex trade against their will were rescued under Operation Northern Spotlight
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Winnipeg and Brandon police were part of a country-wide police crackdown of sex trade traffickers that saw 78 charges laid against 32 people.
Dubbed Operation Northern Spotlight, 54 Canadian officers combined forces with the FBI in the U.S. for the fifth phase of a counter exploitation investigation.
Apart from the arrests, police rescued 16 people who were working in the sex trade against their will.
Here in Winnipeg, police charged five people for obtaining sexual services and interviewed 22 women between the ages of 19 and 44 who were working in areas linked to the sex trade, such as massage parlours and hotels.
Sgt. Darryl Ramkissoon, who oversees Winnipeg police's Counter Exploitation Unit and Missing Persons Unit, said having the FBI on board helps them gain access to American social media sites, like Facebook, for investigating.
“Technology has played a big part in how we do things and how this trade or industry has evolved," Ramkissoon said in an interview. "Put it this way – before you used to be able to drive down the street in certain areas that were known for the sex trade and you used to be able to see who was working, identify them... Now they’re hidden behind the walls or the computers.”
Between Oct. 11 to 16, 391 officers and support staff across Canada conducted 379 interviews, Winnipeg police said in a news release.
The vast number of charges include making and distributing child pornography, forcible confinement, benefitting from trafficking persons, assault and uttering threats.
Ramkissoon said the Winnipeg hotel industry has helped them identify and interview potential human trafficking victims. Police no longer pose as clients to try to interview women, he said.
“It saves a lot of time, a lot of resources, because we’re not having to try and make a date with these women. We can just go, find out what rooms they’re staying in, and do a knock on the door and usually they’re pretty receptive," Ramkissoon said. "They understand that we’re not there to cause them any grief or arrest them. We’re there for their safety and wellbeing."
Ramkissoon said police maintain contact with many Winnipeg women who are in the sex trade, though they aren't always ready to talk to officers.
"As long as things are going okay and she’s getting paid, her needs are being met, then chances of her talking to the police are pretty slim to none. Once things start going sideways, that’s when we get information," he explained.
Police asked anyone with new information regarding human trafficking to contact them at 204-986-3464 or email WPS-CEU@winnipeg.ca.