Police raid suspected brothels

Massage parlours investigated for prostitution, human trafficking

Photograph by : Ward Perrin, CanWest News Service

Kim Bolan, CanWest News Service

Published: Saturday, December 09, 2006

VANCOUVER --More than 100 people were taken into custody after a massive police raid on 18 massage parlours across the Lower Mainland late Thursday night.

Seventy-eight of those arrested were women whom police believe could be victims of human trafficking.

So far, no charges have been laid despite the enormous undertaking by RCMP detachments in Coquitlam, Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby, as well as the Vancouver Police Department, the Integrated Border Enforcement Team and other government agencies.

But Cpl. Norm Massie said the investigation is ongoing and some charges are expected, though he could not say when.

Massie said everyone arrested in the raids has been released, including the women who declined government assistance of emergency shelter.

He said while the women all were in Canada legally either as citizens or permanent residents, they still could have been exploited and used in the sex trade against their will.

Police and social service agencies have only just begun the process of building enough trust in the women to get them to confide in investigators, Massie told reporters yesterday.

"Step one is what we did last night," Massie said. "There is a lot of investigating to do yet."

He said some of the potential victims were handcuffed by police during the raids, which he said had to be done to secure the scenes and ensure officer safety.

Supt. Bill Ard, who heads the RCMP's E Division, said victims "are exploited through fear and debt."

The 18 search warrants executed at the massage parlours came after nine months of investigation by several jurisdictions. he said. The probe started with complaints to the Coquitlam RCMP last March about some streetfront massage parlours being used for prostitution. That led to similar locations being targeted in other jurisdictions.

More than 200 police officers were involved in Thursday's raids.

Ard said young women from Asian and South Asian countries are brought to Canada "under false pretences," and then forced into prostitution.

Massie agreed, saying investigators believe organized crime groups are bringing women into Canada and forcing them into prostitution.

Of the 108 people arrested, Ard said 26 were clients, 78 were women, and the rest were foreign nationals, but they were "not in violation" of immigration laws, said Rob Johnston of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Police would not release the addresses or names of businesses under investigation, but said most had licences to run massage parlours.

Massie said bylaw enforcement officers from the municipalities involved are making sure the parlours do not re-open.

He also confirmed that five warrants were executed in Surrey, five in Richmond, four in Coquitlam and three in Burnaby. Another was executed by Vancouver police earlier Thursday.

However, Richmond RCMP later released the names of the businesses it raided: Swan Lake Shiatsu, Fu Yun Massage Centre, Gun Hoa, Jade Lake, as well as Kingdom Massage and Acupressure.

Cpl. Peter Thiessen said in the release that four bylaw infraction tickets were issued at Gun Hoa, one at Jade Lake and one at Swan Lake.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006