Hungarians Treated Like Slaves : RCMP

Hungarians treated like slaves: RCMP

Adam McDowell and Mary Vallis
National Post
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010

RCMP were hunting Friday for members of an alleged human trafficking ring, which they have charged with bringing at least 16 Hungarians to Canada and treating them as slaves stowing them in basements and feeding them scraps while collecting their government cheques and keeping their wages from construction and other jobs.

Ten people, apparently linked by family ties, have been charged and have had arrest warrants issued against them.

Mounties in Hamilton, Ont., released an unusually harrowing statement yesterday morning about a 10-month investigation dubbed “Project OPAPA,” which alleged that the victims were lured from Hungary with promises of work and a more comfortable life only to find themselves effectively enslaved.

“These victims were generally poor and out of work in their home country. They were brought to Canada with promises of steady work, good pay and a better life.

“However, they learned of their fate after arriving in Hamilton where they were coached to file false Refugee Claims as well as social assistance. These social benefits were eventually stolen by the traffickers,” the statement read.

“It is further alleged that upon arrival in Canada, the traffickers controlled their victims including who they spoke with, where they lived and what they ate.

“The victims typically lived in the basement of their traffickers and were sometimes fed scraps and leftovers, often only once a day. The victims further alleged that they were taken to construction work sites on a daily basis and made to work long hours without pay.”

(The allegations have not been proven in court.)

According to a June report in The Hamilton Spectator, Hungarian trafficking victims in the Hamilton area have even been made to fetch drinks and massage the feet of their captors.

The newspaper spoke with an unnamed couple in Grimsby who employed Hungarian refugee claimants at their agricultural business.

They became suspicious of their employees' circumstances after their handlers offered to “get rid of” any worker who was injured.

One alleged victim eventually contacted an immigration officer with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, who turned the matter over to the RCMP, Sgt. Marc La Porte said.

The RCMP's Human Trafficking Awareness Co-ordinator said yesterday the case is unusual in two respects. First, it marks the first time charges have been laid where victims of alleged international trafficking were sought as labourers as opposed to sex workers. It appears that all of the alleged victims are men.

Second, said retired superintendent Marty Van Doren in an interview, victims of human trafficking rarely summon the courage to reach out for help.

“The big unique thing here is that the victims were willing to co-operate and come forward,” he said.

“You have to look beyond the obvious if you want to identify human trafficking victims,” Mr. Van Doren continued.

“They'll rarely if ever self-identify. They're scared of the people that's trafficking them, or they're ashamed of the situation they're in, or sometimes they don't even realize they're trafficking victims.”

Some of the victims have already returned to Hungary while others remain in Canada and are receiving help from non-governmental organizations. Trafficking victims are sometimes offered 180-day temporary residence permits, which can afford prosecutors and police some time to persuade them to testify against their exploiters.

Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister, told the Post earlier this year that organized crime bosses send pawns to Canada to collect welfare. He referred to a deluge of apparently bogus refugee claims from Hungary.

Of more than 2,500 claims submitted from that country in 2009, only three were deemed to need Canada's protection.

The RCMP worked in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency on the investigation, along with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Hamilton Police Service and several NGOs.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Ferenc Domotor, Ferenc Domotor Jr., Gyongi Kolompar, Lajoz Domotor, Ferenc Karadi, Gizella Domotor, Atilla Kolompar, Gyula Domotor and Zsanett Karadi.

The suspects range in age from 24 to 48; they are wanted for various offences, including trafficking in persons and fraud, and in the case of Zsanett Karadi, theft.

Some of the people charged are already facing charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which falls outside of the Criminal Code.