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Police raid Cambridge, Ont. spa as part of human trafficking investigation

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Waterloo regional police conducted a search warrant Thursday at a business and a home in Cambridge, Ont. as result of a human trafficking investigation.

Police say in March 2023, they got a tip from the public about sexual services being offered for money at Ambition Spa located in a business complex on McGovern Drive.

“As a result of that initial report, our human trafficking team initiated an investigation which took place over a number of months,” Det. Sgt. Jason Bonikowsky with the Waterloo Regional Police Service Human Trafficking team said.

The owners of the spa, a 58-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman – both from Cambridge – were arrested Thursday morning.

Police are seen outside a business in Cambridge where police believe human trafficking occurred. (Stefanie Davis/CTV Kitchener)

Bonikowsky said police seized the location, as well as a vehicle, in relation to their Thursday morning search.

The business has been open for 14 years and police believe crimes have been going on throughout that whole time.

“Without revealing our investigative techniques, the investigation expanded the longer we got into it. We did look for additional victims that may be out in the community,” Bonikowsky said.

Police confirm the victims were employees of the spa.

“Part of what we’re doing today is hoping to encourage any additional victims that may be out there that haven’t shared their story or their victimization to come forward and speak with us. We would love to hear from them and make sure they have the supports that they need,” Bonikowsky said.

“We do believe there are a large number of additional victims within the community and possibly in the Greater Toronto Area that have been affected by this business being in operation.”

Police say they believe there are similar operations running throughout the community.

“We do believe that there is an element of human trafficking occurring at these locations,” Bonikowsky said.

Understanding human trafficking

Nicky Carswell, the manager of the anti-human trafficking program at the the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, said situations like the spa raid highlight the reality that human trafficking is happening in the community.

She said in cases like this, exploiters often use manipulation and fear to coerce women and girls into doing what they want.

“Exploiters can be anybody. They can be business owners, they can be folks who own a spa or a restaurant or a hotel or an Airbnb, and they’re using their business as leverage to exploit people,” Carswell said.

“[Exploiters] are looking for folks who have vulnerabilities. They might be people who are seeking love and belonging. They might be people who are unhoused or are experiencing addiction or mental health issues. They might be young women – a lot of folks who are trafficked are young women and girls. They might be someone who’s racialized.”

She said the reason they’re vulnerable is not due to any fault of their own, but instead systems of oppression.

Carswell said there are misconceptions about how human trafficking presents.

“People still believe that it’s people being shipped over in crates internationally. Or that they’re being scooped off the streets. Or that people are selling chocolate bars and trying to look into your home and grab your children,” Carswell explained.

“Snatch and grab is not traditionally how trafficking happens, especially within our community. It’s much more insidious. It’s much more manipulative.”

It can be difficult to investigate cases like this because of Canadian law.

“It’s legal to sell sex, but illegal to buy and also illegal to advertise and illegal to operate a bawdy house, which is a place where you sell sex,” Carswell explained.

“Because of all of those things, sex workers must work underground, often hide their identity and not be able to work with others. It makes it very difficult for them to come forward when something happens and when you’re working underground, that’s where exploiters are. So they’re highly vulnerable to being exploited.”

She added often, they meet an exploiter who is willing to “share their establishment or make things easier for them or safe for them.”

“They can absolutely use that as a manipulation tactic and turn that into exploitation,” she said.

Carswell said human trafficking-specific supports are important for victims to access, and there are several options throughout the region.

If you or someone you know feels they have been the victim of sexual exploitation or crimes of sexual violence while working at this business, please contact WRPS’ Human Trafficking Team at intel.ht@wrps.on.ca or the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 or www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca

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