Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Human trafficking count laid

Woman faces first such Manitoba charge; Victim forced into prostitution, police say

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Manitoba's first-ever human trafficking charge has been laid after an older woman befriended a 21-year-old woman from northern Manitoba, then allegedly forced her into the sex trade.

The 38-year-old is accused of taking the victim's identification and clothing, punching her in a fight and stopping her twice as she attempted to run away, Winnipeg police said Thursday.

The pair lived in a home in the 300 block of Aikens Street. The older woman forced the girl to turn over the cash she made to pay for food and a roof over her head, investigators believe.

The Winnipeg Police Service vice unit began probing the case after officers were initially called to the home on a complaint of a fight Monday.

The woman was arrested Wednesday.

"The best way to describe it is we have an individual whose human rights have been violated to an extreme," said WPS spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen, noting investigators believe the abuse started earlier this month.

"It's certainly not something we come across on a regular basis."

The Criminal Code added a specific section against human trafficking in 2005.

The Criminal Code describes a trafficker in human beings 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, but doesn't necessarily mean a victim is moved from one place to another.

Michalyshen said the accused in this case didn't bring the victim to Winnipeg from outside the city, but allegedly preyed on her once she was here. A source said the victim is from a remote First Nations community and lived in two city shelters before moving in with the older woman.

He said the case shows trafficking is "happening in our own backyard."

Theresa Peebles is charged with forcible confinement, assault and three counts of trafficking. All charges date from Sept. 5 to Sept. 20 this year.

Peebles is now incarcerated at the Provincial Remand Centre.

"These types of charges are difficult to lay. There's a lot of criteria that need to be established, and because it is fairly new legislation, fairly new law, members of the policing community are still learning and being educated about it," Michalyshen said.

An RCMP report on trafficking released earlier this year did not say Winnipeg was a major centre for the activity.

However, the report did note there have been at least 30 court cases where victims -- mostly women between 14 and 25 years old -- were trafficked within Canada to make money in the sex trade. The report said predators recruited most of them in Ontario, though some came from Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Last week, Winnipeg MP Joy Smith said making it illegal to buy sex would help combat human trafficking for the sex trade in Canada.

Smith recently proposed dozens of recommendations to fight the modern-day slave trade.

The recommendations are part of a national action plan Smith has worked on for the last three years.

Since human trafficking became a separate offence in the Criminal Code, five people have been convicted of it in Canada.

All those cases involved Canadian victims, most of them under 18, who were forced into the sex trade within Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2010 A3

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