The RCMP says it has laid charges of human-trafficking for the first time in Newfoundland and Labrador, after disrupting a criminal network that moved cocaine and other drugs into the province from as far away as British Columbia.
While human-trafficking cases don't often make it to the courts, police and advocates say myths and misconceptions about that form of exploitation need to be dispelled.
"Human trafficking is a serious crime that impacts the most vulnerable people in our society," RCMP Const. Colleen Noble told reporters at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
That doesn't have to include the use of chains, physical confinement and violence, or smuggling people across international borders.
"Traffickers use manipulation, control, deception and violence or the threat of violence to coerce victims into providing sexual services or other services for the direct profit of the trafficker," Noble said.
"These perpetrators often identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the victims they prey on to gain power in the relationships. In the case of Project Badminton, a person was manipulated into providing sexual services."
Accused remains in custody
As CBC News reported earlier this week, Dominic Delisle of St. John's has been charged with human-trafficking and weapons offences. He remains in custody, and is due back in court later this month.
The Mounties say three other men are facing firearms or drug charges in conjunction with the operation.
"Project Badminton began 30 months ago and has resulted in a significant disruption of a drug-trafficking network that funneled cocaine and other drugs from British Columbia and Ontario into Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly the west coast and Northern Peninsula," RCMP Insp. Stefan Thoms said.
Among the items seized by police were more than five kilograms of cocaine, 3,000 counterfeit Oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl, $26,000 in cash, 16 pounds of cannabis and a loaded semi-automatic restricted handgun with an extended magazine.
"The work of our investigators not only resulted in the disruption of this highly-organized criminal network, but also in the laying of human-trafficking charges for the first time by RCMP Newfoundland and Labrador," Thoms said.
Angela Crockwell, executive director of Thrive, said there are a lot of misconceptions about what human trafficking entails, and called for people to educate themselves.
"Most people that we support, they look like all of us sitting in this room today," Crockwell said.
Thrive runs Blue Door, a program that helps people exiting sexual exploitation.
"It's really important that we start to dispel the myth of what a victim looks like, because it means that often we miss all the signs," Crockwell said.
"Because we're looking for something that actually is not accurate."
While the Mounties have never laid human-trafficking charges in Newfoundland and Labrador, a similar allegation has made it to the courts one other time in the past dozen years. The previous charge was filed in 2014, and later withdrawn.