WINNIPEG police have laid a rare human-trafficking charge as part of an investigation shrouded in mystery.
Jermaine Neveson, 27, was arrested this week and is in custody. Police refused to provide further details when contacted Thursday by the Free Press.
Court documents identify a 24-year-old woman as the alleged victim. The human-trafficking charge alleges Neveson assaulted the woman, "did harbour, exercise control, direction or influence" over the her and "did receive a financial or other material benefit by trafficking" her.
Neveson is also accused of "concealing, removing, withholding or destroying" her identity documentation. All of the allegations stem from incidents between May 24 and Nov. 5. None of the charges has been proven and he is presumed innocent.
Neveson was initially arrested in mid-August following a disturbance at Portage Place. He was charged with identity theft and obstructing a police officer but released on bail the following day.
He allegedly failed to appear in court in September and had been wanted on a warrant until this week.
Human trafficking has been referred to as the modern-day slave trade, where victims are often lured away from their homes with the promise of a better life, only to be forced into the sex trade.
The Criminal Code added a specific section against human trafficking in 2005, defining an accused as "a person (who) exploits another person if they cause the victim to provide labour or service for fear of their safety or the safety of someone known to them." Police say that can mean forced participation in the sex trade or other kinds of labour.
A handful of prosecutions have taken place since then. One of the biggest involved 11 alleged victims between 14 and 19 years of age in Vancouver. Another case saw three people in Hamilton charged with trafficking after allegedly luring victims from Hungary and forcing them into slave labour.
The only previous human-trafficking case in Winnipeg ended in 2011 with the Crown announcing they were dropping all charges against a Winnipeg woman. The 39-year-old accused allegedly befriended a 21-year-old woman from northern Manitoba and forced her into the sex trade. The pair lived in a home in the 300 block of Aikins Street, where the victim was allegedly forced to turn over the cash she made to pay for food and a roof over her head.
The Crown cited serious issues with the alleged victim in their decision to abandon the prosecution, including her story dramatically changing from what she originally told police.
"This is a very novel charge and the standard of proof is quite high. At the end of the day, we concluded we wouldn't have a reasonable likelihood of conviction," Crown attorney Terry McComb said at the time.
Winnipeg police said they conducted a proper investigation and laid appropriate charges based on the evidence they had. They vowed to continue taking these types of allegations seriously despite the judicial setback.
Police recently merged their vice and missing-persons units into a new team mandated to deal with sexual exploitation of vulnerable people. The "counter-exploitation unit" is responsible for investigating human trafficking and underage prostitution and targeting individuals who exploit vulnerable people involved in the sex trade.