HAMILTON – Twenty members of a Hungarian human trafficking ring that brought people from eastern Europe with promises of a better life in Canada have been deported, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Tuesday.
He said the victims were forced to work illegally, live in deplorable conditions without adequate food, and were intimidated or attacked repeatedly.
“The removal of these foreign criminals convicted of human trafficking demonstrates how our government is keeping Canadians safe,” Blaney said during a news conference in Hamilton, where the gang had operated.
The RCMP has previously said the victims were mostly poor Hungarians who were duped into coming to Canada and forced to work for free in a case of “modern-day slavery.”
Blaney said 22 members of the Domotor-Kolompar ring have been convicted of human trafficking charges under the Criminal Code of Canada, and all but two have been deported to Hungary.
“Our government will continue to take strong action to address human trafficking in all its forms,” he said.
The Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP Hamilton-Niagara Detachment and local police were all involved in the years-long investigation dubbed Project OPAPA.
It was launched in December 2009 after an alleged victim from Hungary complained to an immigration officer. The investigation initially discovered 16 people with similar stories, with more people coming forward in the following months.
Police previously said that once the Hungarian workers arrived in Canada, they were forced to file phoney claims for refugee status and social assistance, with traffickers pocketing the money.
The suspects controlled their victims’ activities, including who they spoke with, where they lived and what they ate.
Police said the victims typically lived in the basement of the suspects’ home, and were sometimes fed scraps and leftovers, often just once a day.
The workers toiled away without pay at construction sites owned by the traffickers and were constantly monitored, police said.
David Sweet, MP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, thanked law enforcement and border services agents for dismantling the criminal organization.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude for helping us rid the scourge of human trafficking in Hamilton and Ancaster,” said Sweet.
“There is no doubt that today is a day when justice has been served.”
The deportations come two years after the government toughened measures to prevent human trafficking and prosecute perpetrators.
_ By Abdul Latheef in Toronto.