Hours after an an Alberta-wide arrest warrant was issued for an Edmonton man accused of forcing his victims into sex trafficking through coercion and violence, he is in custody.
Felicien Mufuta, 37, was arrested by police in south Edmonton on Wednesday morning, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams' human trafficking and exploitation unit said Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Lance Parker, who oversees the unit, announced Mufuta's arrest during a news conference.
Parker said he was informed of the arrest moments before the news conference began.
"We were able to locate Mr. Mufuta returning to his residence and he is currently under arrest and in custody," he said.
"I can tell you it brings a lot of relief to our survivor."
Forced to work in sex trade
Mufuta is facing charges including trafficking in persons, sexual assault, procuring, advertising sexual services, benefiting from trafficking and breach of release conditions.
An investigation began in February after a woman contacted Edmonton police and told them she was being forced to work in the sex trade. She said she had been sexually assaulted by the accused.
Parker said investigators believe the suspect preyed on some of society's "most vulnerable people," controlling them through violence and withholding their identity documents.
"A lot of these guys prey on our vulnerable communities and victims that are going through some troubled times," he said.
"Once they get these victims, they maintain their relationship with them either through violence or by withholding certain documents so they are unable to leave without these documents."
Parker credited the woman who originally came forward to police for her strength and bravery. She helped ensure other women will not fall prey to her abuser, he said.
May be more victims
Investigators believe there may be more victims and Parker encouraged others to come forward.
"Just from what I've seen in this investigation, I don't think this was a moment of opportunity for this person," he said. "I think that there other victims.
"I strongly believe that this wasn't just one person that this gentleman was dealing with. I believe here are other survivors out there."
Officers first tried to arrest Mufuta last month. They searched a south Edmonton home on March 4 but didn't find him, ALERT said.
The woman who first reported Mufuta to police is receiving support and access to specialized care, ALERT said.
Parker said the practice of withholding identity documents from victims is a common tactic in the illegal sex trade. He said it is often used on new Canadians or those experiencing poverty, vulnerable people who may have few resources and little paperwork to rely on to access employment and housing.
"If someone travels here and all of sudden their passport is gone and what do you do? They have no documentation and they're fearful of police, depending on where they come from," Parker said.
"Now with this [case], I'm not saying it's international, it's more of a national thing ... but if you have nothing and you have no way to replace those documents, it's like you're trapped."
Similar human-trafficking investigations
Parker acknowledged three similar human-trafficking investigations in the Edmonton region in recent months. He said Alberta's anti-human-trafficking task force, created in May 2020, is helping ensure ALERT can respond to allegations more efficiently than before.
The committee, set up by the provincial government, is intended to improve coordination between policing agencies and community groups tasked with combating human trafficking and protecting victims.
The coordinated approach to investigations is working, Parker said. There are fewer jurisdictional issues and experts in the field are communicating more.
Sex trafficking has always been present in Alberta communities, but they are better equipped to investigate it, he said.
"We're able to action everything that is going on," he said.
"I wouldn't say there are more events occurring, but what we have done is brought this unit to the ALERT model, which takes in all the best of the best from the RCMP, Camrose and the Edmonton Police Service and puts all into one team.
"Now we're province-wide, we're national."