11 sex workers freed in Toronto after Canadian police uncovered human trafficking scheme

A Toronto man has been charged with human trafficking after an organized trafficking operation was dismantled, authorities said Tuesday.

Matthew Bailey, 27, was charged after 11 women from Asia arrived in the Toronto area from Montreal with the intent to work as escorts, the Canadian prosecutor’s office said in a news release.

The women from the Philippines and China, ages 19 to 24, were not allowed to return to their countries, it said. They were put in debt bondage, drugged, and kept in chains. They were paid $250 a day per escort.

The women were suspected of being victims of human trafficking and held against their will. Eight of the women have left the country after the investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Immigration and Refugee Board, and authorities in Montreal and Toronto, according to the federal prosecution office.

The investigation was launched in 2016 after the government of the Philippines filed a criminal complaint against a sex worker named Diana Zhang in Ontario.

When the prostitution ring was dismantled, some women were freed and sent back to their countries, while others were detained and forced to return. Some of the women were trafficked out of the country by authorities.

John Boxhill, the co-director of the Victims Rights Resource Centre, which helps survivors of human trafficking, said in an interview that the women, many of whom were on drugs, came to Canada “like all these adults do. They’re looking for a better life.”

People living in poverty flee to Canada as a way to survive, he said. The women had perhaps been tricked, or misunderstood by someone who took advantage of their innocence, and it is fortunate that some of them were able to avoid being exploited, he said.

In Canada, people who commit crimes do not usually have to appear in court unless they are convicted, though individuals accused of human trafficking may have to testify.

Bailey has been remanded in custody after a bail hearing, his lawyer Paul Sabri said.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the women were held in a variety of conditions until they could leave. They were deprived of freedom of movement, food, and money and forced to work.

The organization Global Network Against Trafficking in Women has more information about human trafficking.

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