Friday, September 12, 1997

Henry Hess
Crime Reporter

p. A6.

Wai Hing (Kitty) Chu, taken into police custody Wednesday, faces 135 prostitution-related charges, as well as charges under the Immigration Act. (Randy Velocci/The Globe and Mail).

Toronto sex ring not alone

Slavery racket involving Asian females growing in North America, officials say

TORONTO -- A sex-slavery ring that was the target of police raids in the Toronto area is part of a flourishing black market in Asian girls and women, fuelled by a demand for young prostitutes and a lack of international sanctions, police and immigration officials say.

They said the situation will only get worse so long as prostitution is seen as a low priority for law enforcement.

"White slavery is something that's traditionally [associated with] Third World countries," said RCMP Inspector Ben Soave, who heads a task force that targets organized crime in the Metro Toronto area. "Suddenly it's here, in our back yards."

Insp. Soave said similar operations are going on in Vancouver, as well as New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and "anywhere there's a significant Asian community."

He expressed concern that the illicit sex traffic from Southeast Asia appears to be funnelled through Canada, "Why are they using Canada as a gateway to get into the U.S.? Are our immigration laws that much easier?"

In a series of raids on bawdy houses and massage parlours in the Greater Toronto Area on Wednesday night, the RCMP-led task force arrested several dozen women and laid hundreds of charges.

Afterward, police said they had disrupted operations of a Toronto-based ring that made millions of dollars selling girls and women from Thailand and Malaysia to brothels in the Toronto and Vancouver areas as well as in San Jose, Calif. They said most of the clients came from the Asian community.

The alleged ringleader, a 33-year-old woman named Wai Hing (Kitty) Chu faces 135 prostitution-related charges as well as charges under the Immigration Act.

Police and immigration sources said Ms. Chu, who is believed to be a native of China, claimed refugee status in Canada after arriving from Hong Kong in 1987.

Lucille LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for Citizen and Immigration Canada, said Ms. Chu's refugee claim was turned down, but she has been able to extend her stay in Canada by appealing the refusal to the Federal Court and then to the Immigration Minister on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Those appeals have also been rejected.

In the meantime, Ms. Chu was convicted of several prostitution-related offences in Canada and she was ordered deported in the summer of 1995. Ms. LeBlanc said the Immigration Department is working on arrangements to have her removed from Canada.

Police allege that Ms. Chu has a major Chinese crime syndicate known as the Big Circle Boys. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a man identified as her common-law husband, who police said is a member of the Big Circle Boys.

Police also laid prostitution charges against women found in the brothels. Asked whether it was fair to charge people who may themselves be victims, Inspector Soave said investigators are still trying to find out exactly who the women are and how they got here. Eventually, the Crown will decide whether to prosecute.

The tip that led to Wednesday night's raids came from officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "We were approached last fall by the INS in Buffalo," RCMP Staff Sergeant Larry Tronstad said in an interview. "They had an informant who knew some people up here."

The informant told police about an international network that procured girls and women in Southeast Asia and funnelled them into Canada and the United States through Vancouver, Staff Sgt. Tronstad said.

INS officials made their informant available to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, an 18-member task force made up of officers from the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and Metro Toronto Police was well as police from the neighbouring regions of Peel and York.

Through a series of meetings between the informant and Ms. Chu, police said, they learned that agents in Thailand and Malaysia would recruit teen-aged girls and young women, obtain visitors' visas for Canada and put them on a plane to Vancouver.

When they arrived in Vancouver they were met at the airport and put on another plane to Toronto, where they were again met and escorted to one of a series of houses or apartments in North York, Scarborough and Markham that were used as brothels.

The women were held as virtual slaves, police said, while they worked as prostitutes to repay the "debt" of $40,000 (U.S.) charged by the people who brought them to Canada and the brothel owners who purchased them.

Once the debt was repaid, police said, the women were theoretically free to go, though many appear to have continued to work in the brothels and massage parlours.

Police said the ring had between 40 and 60 prostitutes, most in their 20s, but some as young as 16, working in the Toronto area.

In some cases, they said, women were sold to other bawdy-house operators in Canada or the United States. "You can buy any girl in the place for $15,000 (U.S.)," Staff Sgt. Tronstad said.

Inspector Soave said police and immigration officials are continuing to probe how the women were procured and how the ring obtained the visas used to bring them into Canada, but the investigation is hampered by shrinking budgets.

How much can police "afford to dedicate, in light of the penalties they're going to get?" he commented. "It would be nice to let the operation run another year, but we can't afford to do it."

Under the Criminal Code, bringing someone into Canada to work as a prostitute or living off the avails of a prostitute are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the maximum is rarely imposed, officials say.

The penalty is more severe if a person younger than 18 years old is coerced into prostitution. That can bring a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years.

Police said the women may have come to Canada willingly, though it is not clear whether they knew they would be working as prostitutes.

Several recent studies have concluded that the international traffic in women and girls for sexual purposes is a growing problem, especially in Asia.

New York lawyer Young Ik Yoon, the author of an article entitled International Sexual Slavery, said each year many women are abducted, sold to pimps in foreign countries and forced into prostitution, or are lured abroad with promises of jobs, then forced into prostitution when they arrive.

"Women who become the victims of international sexual slavery are procured by kidnapping, purchase or with fraudulent inducements for jobs and a better life," he said.

In addition, some are sold into sexual bondage by their families. "In Thailand, some parents sell their daughters when they are mere babies. ... When the girls reach a certain age, they are then resold into the prostitution circuit," Mr. Yoon said.

It is much more difficult for women to escape when they are in a foreign country, he said, since they do not know the language and have nowhere to turn for support.

Mr. Yoon advocated harsh penalties, including jail sentences of up to 20 years and seizure of criminals' assets, to deter the trade, but he said what is really needed is better enforcement.

Although many countries, including Canada, have signed international agreements banning trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution, Mr. Yoon said there is no effective way of enforcing them.

A United Nations report last year agreed, saying a lack of international co-operation hand political will "has contributed to the expansion of traffic in women across the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide."

The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights spoke in a recent report of "the urgent need for the adoption of effective measures nationally and internationally to protect women and girl children from this nefarious traffic."

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Created: September 14, 1997
Last modified: September 16, 1997

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