You are currently viewing Trafficked: An examination of human trafficking in Greater Sudbury

Trafficked: An examination of human trafficking in Greater Sudbury


In 2014, when she was just 24, Wendy’s friend took her to a local hotel where she was introduced to an older man (Wendy is not her real name; she has asked that we hide her identity). He introduced her to a whole new world.

“At the time I didn’t know he was a pimp,” she says. “He’s the one who introduced me into the world of trafficking.”

Wooing and manipulating Wendy was easy.

“I’m in recovery now but I was in active addiction at the time,” she says. “I was addicted to cocaine. He wooed me and groomed me from there. It started with him being a drug dealer.”

There were red flags Wendy says now she missed at the time. For one thing, there were young girls at the hotel who appeared to be happy, “but you could tell they were sad,” she says. She later found out those girls were being trafficked.

“There were different hotel rooms this man had key cards to,” she says. “He brought me into a separate room where it was just him and I, and he offered me some drugs to make me feel more comfortable. I was sexually assaulted in the room.”

It turns out, Wendy’s trafficker had booked at least four rooms.

“I was brought into three different rooms. In the first, there were other girls; the second room was private, just him and I,” she says. “Then after the assault took place, he brought me into an actual private room, where he had his laptop set up.”

Wendy says within one night of knowing this man, he had set up a profile for her on a now-defunct website advertising her services. He carried a different cell phone for each girl and worked with a woman who Wendy says groomed the girls.

“She would go on calls with us and kind of show us the ropes,” she says.

Once in the third room, Wendy says she was photographed for the website profile.

She was not allowed to use her cell phone and says “I had a lot of my rights taken away. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time.”

Wendy was given a key to a fourth room — her own, so she could do her work.    

This photo, by Helga Himer for AOH, depicts a woman being trafficked. She is bound and is being assaulted; however, not all instances of trafficking are quite so dramatic.

supplied by Angels of Hope Against Human Trafficking

On a slow night, Wendy says she would meet with at least five men.

“A lot of them had wedding rings on,” she says. “I have met with lawyers, doctors, police officers; all sorts of higher-ups you wouldn’t think would be into this underground world, but there are a lot of shocking people you come across. And there are those at the lower end of the scale, but for the most part, it’s professional men.”

Wendy was shuffled between cities; she says it is known as touring. She went from Sudbury to Timmins, then Barrie, Orangeville, Mississauga, Toronto, Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie.

“Highway 400 and 401 are major trafficking roads, for sure,” she says. “Sudbury is a hub.”

Rosemary Nagy is an associate professor in gender equality and social justice at Nipissing University, and co-director of the Northeastern Ontario Research Alliance on Human Trafficking. She says while the 400 series is a common route, trafficking does not necessarily need to involve the movement of girls and women.

“The 401-400 triangle is what we heard mostly,” she says in agreement with Wendy. “Interestingly, the Canadian legal definition of trafficking does not require movement — only control of movement. Legal scholar Katrin Roots notes this provision is quite close to procurement provisions in the Criminal Code (i.e. pimping).”

In her experience, Wendy says virtually all the girls who are trafficked are using drugs, either because they were using previously and were lured in like her, or “they have to start using to numb their feelings because of the shame and guilt they feel from doing the work itself.”  She also says threats and coercion are a standard part of trafficking operations.    

Part of the problem with leaving a trafficker, Nagy says, is that there is a lack of safe transitional housing available for women. Nagy says in her research, she has also been told shelters may not be safe spaces, since they could be used as recruiting grounds.

“A lot of research participants — service providers and women with lived experience — noted the dire shortage of safer, affordable housing in our region,” she explains. “There are human trafficking-specific safe houses in larger areas, such as Covenant House in Toronto, for example. There is not a lot out there other than basic transitional housing and shelters; sometimes trafficked women might not be able to access these. We heard claims that shelters are recruiting sites, so that is one possible reason; I don’t really know. Also, if there are sobriety requirements, this may make access difficult.”

Cristina Scarpellini is the executive director of Angels of Hope Against Human Trafficking. She works directly with survivors of human trafficking and their families; so far, she has helped about 200 women. A former addict, Scarpellini wanted to give back after she found her path to sobriety.

supplied by Cristina Scarpellini

Cristina Scarpellini has been operating Angels of Hope Against Human Trafficking (AOH) for five years. A former addict, she saw first-hand the destruction brought on by human trafficking and felt compelled to act.

“Cristina was in active addiction for many years using drugs as a substitute for mental health treatment,” the bio on the AOH website states. “While in active addiction, Cristina saw first-hand the devastation and connection between addictions, mental health and sex trafficking. With the support of her family, friends and professionals, Cristina surrendered to her addiction to opioids in 2011 and received the proper treatment to live a life of abstinence. After years of sobriety, she felt compelled to recreate the support system she had for survivors of human trafficking.”

Scarpellini is a certified addictions counsellor. She is trained in suicide intervention and prevention; mental health first aid; and concurrent disorder. She has had extensive training in human trafficking and sex work.

As executive director of AOH, Scarpellini has assisted more than 200 survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as their families. It seems like an understatement to say she is passionate about her work — her eyes flicker at the mention of some of Sudbury’s notorious traffickers.   

“They’ve degraded (the girls). They’ve taken everything from them — physically hurt them, psychologically hurt them,” she says. “They’ve turned them into a shell of themselves. It’s incomprehensible what one person can do to another in terms of trafficking and it all comes down to money. That’s what they want is the money — all they see are the dollar signs. You’re willing to do that to another human being for money? That’s disgusting. I hope there’s a special place in hell for those traffickers, because I see what they do to those girls.”

Scarpellini shares a story of one young girl who developed sepsis — an infection of the blood and organs — because she had a cosmetic sponge inserted into her vagina to stop her period. Her trafficker wanted her to continue working.

A girl being trafficked has no freedom. As Scarpellini explains, the trafficker will indicate when she can sleep, what she can wear, when she can eat, when she can do drugs. She is moved around cities nearly every week — staying in hotels and staying high much of the time — so that she does not get comfortable or familiar with a place.

“The bottom line is, it’s all about money,” Scarpellini says. “They don’t care what extent they have to go to or what they have to put another person through. After the illegal drug trade, it’s the second most lucrative market. You can sell a person over and over again; you can’t sell drugs over and over. It’s extremely lucrative and enticing to some people.”

Scarpellini and I head to the hotel Wendy has mentioned. Wendy says she was shuffled through two local hotels, although the one we are visiting was known by a different name in 2014.

Located near a main thoroughfare, the small inn is an ideal — and easily accessible — location from which to traffic women for sex.

While some may think trafficking is largely a parasite of big cities, Greater Sudbury has not been immune. In February 2017, Douglas Bright, then 47, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to trafficking-related charges.

At his trial, Bright told the judge he was simply trying to help “when he set up a woman to work as a prostitute in the Toronto area,” The Star previously reported. The woman told the court in 2017 Bright helped set her up in Toronto to pay off her drug debt.

“At the end of the day, that’s the story. I was trying to help out a friend,” Bright told Superior Court Justice Alex Kurke at the time. “I was trying to do the right thing, but obviously I wasn’t … I had nothing but good intentions for her and I’d just like to apologize.”

Bright pleaded guilty to two of six charges: procuring a woman to offer or provide sexual services for consideration; and knowingly advertising an offer to provide the sexual services of a woman for consideration. The other charges were dropped. The crimes were committed in 2015 and because Bright spent 20 months in jail awaiting his trial, he received 30 months of pre-custody credit, which meant he spent six months in jail after his conviction.

The Northeastern Ontario Research Alliance on Human Trafficking has produced this poster, which it says fosters meaningful discussion and provides real solutions to human trafficking.

supplied by NORAHT

In June 2019, Raymond Lincoln, 50, received a seven-and-a-half year sentence on four trafficking-related convictions and for sexually assaulting two of the women who worked for him as escorts, The Star reported in August (Lincoln was before the courts again). In July 2017 after an early-morning raid, Lincoln was charged with two counts of benefiting from sexual services; two counts of advertising sexual services; and two counts of sexual assault.

Scarpellini says since 2015 there has been a marked increase in human trafficking in Greater Sudbury.

“Through my own lived experiences with drug addiction and mental health, I’ve seen how vulnerable these girls are,” she says. “I want to give them a voice and empower them to get out of that lifestyle.”

Scarpellini and I head inside the hotel. I ask the clerk behind the desk whether they take cash. Despite a sign on the door indicating otherwise, he says yes, they do — no credit card required. When I point out the contradiction, he says the sign is posted for those who look like troublemakers.

“Sometimes we have trouble — people who look like trouble — so we tell them we need a credit card,” he tells me.

When we tell him we have heard women are being trafficked through the hotel, he says, “that is a lie. Do you see any cops coming in?”

The clerk says there is no proof women have been trafficked through the hotel and the police have never visited the hotel. He mentions that in its former life, it is possible the hotel was used as a bawdy house, but says under the current management, he is certain there is no trafficking taking place.

He lives on the premises with his family and says he would not tolerate it, as he has children.

“My family lives here, so I have to make sure they’re safe,” he says. “As soon as I see there’s trouble or it looks like trouble, I won’t rent rooms.”

But he cannot define what trouble looks like and does not offer any rationale for his explanation.

The clerk says there are video cameras throughout the hotel, but they are rarely, if ever, viewed. He also says he does not know the signs of human trafficking.

“We don’t keep an eye on the camera 24/7,” he says. “There are 16 cameras. You think it’s easy to keep an eye on 16 cameras?”

We are at an impasse. I emailed the hotel proprietors on Nov. 9, but did not hear back from them.

Wendy was trafficked for about a year before she left, told her mom what was going on and sought treatment. But relapse is often a part of the journey and Wendy says she continued to work in the sex trade on and off until earlier this year, in order to feed her addiction.

“It was hell; I can’t even put it into words,” Wendy’s mom says. “She had two relationships with men in her life — it’s not like she was promiscuous when she was young or anything. It was very hard for me to comprehend what was going on. I didn’t sleep, because I always thought she’d get stabbed or killed, or overdose or get thrown in a river, because that’s what they do to prostitutes.”

Over time, mom says she realized what was going on with her daughter, but by then “it was too late. She was already involved and was going down south. It was quite a nightmare.”

The Ontario government announced in October it is investing $2.5 million “in cash and proceeds seized from criminals to help fight human trafficking in communities across the province.” Through the civil remedies grant program, 33 local projects focused on prevention, crisis counselling, research and public education have received funding.

“We are fighting back against human traffickers by investing in training, surveillance technology and equipment to help local police and prosecutors crack down on the criminal networks that prey on and profit from young and vulnerable people in our communities,” Attorney General Doug Downey said in October. “These community-based projects will strengthen local capacity to prevent and respond to these heinous crimes while supporting survivors. … These grants will help communities fight back against human trafficking and deter unlawful activity in their regions.”

This image, by Helga Himer, shows a woman under the Paris Street bridge. The Greater Sudbury Police Service is currently working on several trafficking-related investigations. During the first six months of 2020, more than 35 investigations were launched.

supplied by Angels of Hope Against Human Trafficking

The Greater Sudbury Police Service has several trafficking investigations underway. While they say it is an under-reported crime and “the number of victims is likely much greater than those we have been able to assist,” they have laid more than 100 trafficking-related charges since 2018.

“We are aware human trafficking is a severely under-reported crime. Additionally, traffickers are established across numerous communities and jurisdictions. It is our opinion that one is too many,” Kaitlyn Dunn, a spokesperson for the service, tells The Star. “From April 2018 to March 2019, the GSPS entered into 56 new human trafficking investigations, resulting in 53 trafficking-related charges laid. During the same time period, 28 survivors were assisted and referred for relevant and appropriate support services. In 2019, GSPS investigated approximately 80 human trafficking and related occurrences, resulting in 75 trafficking-related charges. In 2019, seven survivors were assisted and referred to the appropriate support services. In 2020 from January to June, 38 trafficking and related occurrences have been/are being investigated, many of which are ongoing.”

The police service says exploiting and creating vulnerability is a primary aspect of the trafficker ethos.

“Traffickers are known to seek vulnerable people they feel may be easier to exploit. It is known that women represent the majority of victims in Canada. Individuals who are also likely to be at-risk can include, but are not limited to, Indigenous women, youth and children; members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community; as well as individuals living in foster care,” GSPS explains. “The connection between drug use and trafficking is the organized crime aspect. Evidence suggests trafficking is almost always a form of organized crime, generating illicit revenues. The combination of drug trafficking and human trafficking can be used to exploit those who are vulnerable.”

While she was being trafficked, Wendy says the worst feelings were ones of loneliness. She felt ashamed, “unwanted, dirty, used and abused.” She says she can compartmentalize the physical aspects of her life in the sex trade (and the sexual assault), but “all the feelings of guilt and shame that I had, I’m still dealing with that.”

Wendy is doing coursework through various organizations, including Angels of Hope, and says it is making a difference to her life post-trafficking and allowing her to learn more about the journey she has taken so far.   

Nagy contends the best treatment plans address the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual traumas wrought by trafficking.

“Human trafficking and other forms of violence in the sex industry are traumatic experiences that can have long-lasting physical, emotional, cognitive/psychological and spiritual effects,” she explains. “Trauma and violence-informed approaches are necessary to prevent causing further harm to persons who are accessing services. This requires that policies and programs be designed with advanced knowledge of human trafficking and other forms of violence in the sex industry, including how individual experiences are interconnected to structural violence and oppression.”

A survivor’s needs are complex and intense, but with diligent care, a better future is possible. As Nagy notes, some women will continue in sex work, while “some do other things, like go back to school and do social work. It really depends.” With renewed freedom is an opportunity for survivors to redefine their dreams.

Wendy says she owes her sobriety, and future, to her mom.

“She’s given me unconditional love,” she says. “She drives me to all my doctors’ appointments. She’s with me when I do my virtual appointments. She has given me a roof over my head while I’ve been battling addiction and then going back to recovery. She’s never given up on me, when everyone else in my life has either left me or has had so much shame and guilt, they look the other way. She doesn’t judge me. She takes the time to understand. She’s my everything.”
Twitter: @marykkeown
705 674 5271 ext. 505235

For more information:

  • If you are being trafficked, are in danger of being trafficked or know someone who is, please call 911 to report it. You may also wish to download What3Words, which can help locate you, even if you do not know your whereabouts or are beyond cell service.
  • For more information on Angels of Hope Against Human Trafficking, go to
  • For more information on the Northeastern Ontario Research Alliance on Human Trafficking, go to They have developed a video that introduces human trafficking and talks about what we can do to help minimize the practice:
  • Applications for the 2021-22 civil remedies grant program are open until Dec. 15. The list of eligible applicants includes Ontario and First Nation police services; not-for-profit groups; community agencies and Indigenous communities; and organizations that assist victims of unlawful activities or prevent unlawful activities that result in victimization.

What to look for:

  • Traffickers use coercion to lure victims. They will befriend their victims, while sometimes acting as the ‘boyfriend.’ Traffickers manipulate victims by promising a better life and opportunities to make money.
  • Individuals who have been involved in human trafficking may isolate themselves, be unaware of their surroundings, show signs of physical abuse, demonstrate signs of being groomed, seem withdrawn or disoriented, and/or appear controlled or manipulated. Victims may feel alone and isolated, and feel as though they have nowhere to turn.
  • If anyone believes they have identified someone in a trafficking situation, they have options. Individuals can report to Greater Sudbury Police Services by calling 705-675-9171; report to Sudbury Rainbow Crime Stoppers at or 1-800-222-8477; or use the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, a confidential, multilingual service that operates 24/7. You can reach the hotline at 1-833-900-1010 or


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