MONTREAL – As many as 500 Asian women were allegedly smuggled into the country to take part in a Canada-wide prostitution ring the RCMP says it has dismantled.
Federal authorities announced Wednesday they’d struck against two major cells of the network in the last five days and arrested six people in the greater Montreal and Toronto areas.
The accused are allegedly part of an Asian-based organized crime ring that operated bawdy houses in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
They face a host of charges including procuring, procuring minors, advertising sexual services and gaining a material benefit from sexual services.
Other immigration-related charges could be laid later as well as serious gangsterism charges.
Police say the alleged victims, mainly from Korea and China, received assistance from a criminal organization to enter the country either illegally through land crossings or with student and visitors visas obtained under false pretences.
They were then controlled and exploited by the prostitution ring and would be put to work across the country, said RCMP Const. Erique Gasse.
Gasse told reporters the women were aware they were coming to Canada to work in prostitution, but were told it would be under decent working conditions.
“They were supported, controlled and exploited by a prostitution ring that operated across Canada,” Gasse said. “The victims were exploited for several weeks in one place and then transported across the country to continue the same line of work, still in appalling conditions.”
The RCMP hasn’t been able to pinpoint an exact number of victims, but said there could be as many as 500.
The contents of computers and cellphones confiscated during 16 police seizures may shed light on a list of clients.
“After a few weeks or months, the girls were returned to their country of origin,” Gasse told a news conference at Saint-Hubert Airport, just south of Montreal.
Two alleged ringleaders were arrested and flown to Montreal from Toronto on Wednesday and are to appear in court Thursday. Four others from Montreal and Notre-Dame-de-L’Ile-Perrot, a suburb of Montreal, appeared in court earlier this week.
Two people remain on the lam — a 34-year-old man from Toronto and a 20-year-old woman from Montreal.
Two clients arrested during the operations will also face charges of being found in a bawdy house.
Authorities say they also seized two vehicles and an important sum of cash.