Project Guardian: Targeting Human Trafficking

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 4:37 p.m. April 22, 2015
Updated: 4:43 p.m. April 22, 2015

A Toronto Police Sex Crimes investigation, Project Guardian, has led to nine arrests on human trafficking and drug-related offences.

A female officer in uniform standing at Toronto Police Podium
Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins speaks to the media regarding Project Guardian.

A Toronto Police Sex Crimes investigation, Project Guardian, has led to nine arrests on human trafficking and drug-related offences. 

Sex Crimes Unit Commander Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said that the investigation was undertaken from October 2014 to April 2015 and focused on a gang known as the “Complex Crip Gangsters.” 

According to the Inspector, while four victims have come forward, police believe there may be more. “We know that with human trafficking investigations a lot of women have been forced into this trade. It takes some time for the person who has been involved in this lifestyle to actually come forward and speak to us about it, to actually be able to deal with what has happened to them and have the strength to come forward.”

She assured victims that if they come forward they would be given the support services they need and if they would like they could proceed with criminal charges. “I encourage those affected to come forward and we want to make sure everyone has access to support services regardless of their decision to proceed criminally.

“The investigation revealed that members of and associations of this gang were forcing females into prostitution for monetary gain. The female victims involved ranged in ages from 15 to 33 years and were recruited from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Edmonton,” said Desjardins.

Toronto Police worked closely with police services in those regions, but Project Guardian mostly concentrate on victims from Ontario and specifically Toronto she added. 

Mug shots of three men and one woman.
Joel Edwards, Levi Alexander, Marcus Cumsille and Chanelle Espinosa are four of the nine people arrested for human trafficking and drug related charges.

While some victims had a long history with the accused, others were recruited through the help of social media websites, dance clubs, schools and group homes explained Desjardins. 

On answering a question as to why the victims did not simply run away, the Inspector said that mental abuse and an atmosphere of control often stopped them from doing so. “(They are) mentally abused and basic human rights (are) taken away from them. It is so structured that they can’t make any decisions. And when they try to make a choice and try to leave, they are physically beaten, they sustain injuries and…then they’re afraid to actually make the choice to leave,” she said. 

On how girls ended up becoming entrapped in such a climate the Inspector said it was manipulation on part of the accused that would lead to a girl being forced into the sex trade. “What ends up happening is the victim is usually a person who is seeking some form of attention, they’re either running from something or they’re running towards something.  They’re looking for someone to give them attention, so these pimps can see how girls are vulnerable and they home in on that. Somebody who thinks they’re not pretty, they tell them how pretty they are and they buy them the best clothing. If it’s someone who hasn’t been out for a nice dinner they wine and dine them and treat them like gold. And these girls believe that these intentions are real and that they’re forming a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship…and in the end it all of a sudden turns and they have a big bill to pay. These weren’t gifts and you owe me now.”

Soon after things start changing and these women and girls start being manipulated more until they are isolated from their family and friends. “Their cell phones are taken away, they start being moved from town to town and they can’t reach out, it’s just a system and these pimps are good at it,” said Desjardins. She said the accused were making up to as much as $90,000 in three months on the services of one victim alone. 

An April 2 investigation under Project Guardian also led to police seizing electronic devices, various drugs, identifications belonging to victims, documents related to website advertisements, documents relating to hotels and motels used by victims, large quantities of money and stolen property related to residential break-ins in Toronto. 

Police are appealing to other victims to come forward. 

According to police, one man is still outstanding on five Human Trafficking offences, for which an arrest warrant has been obtained. 

The following people have been arrested:

Marcus Cumsille, 21, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) three counts of Trafficking in Persons
2) three counts of Material Benefit
3) three counts of Exercise Control
4) two counts of Assault

Joel Edwards, 22, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) two counts of Trafficking in Persons
2) two counts of Material Benefit
3) four counts of Possession of a Schedule I Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
4) two counts of Possession of a Schedule II Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
5) Possession of a Schedule II Substance
6) three counts of Possession of Proceeds of Property Obtained by Crime
7) two counts of Fail to Comply Recognizance
8) Fail to Comply Probation


Tyronne Matthews, 20, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Possession of a Schedule II Substance
2) Possession of Property Obtained by Crime Over $5000
3) Possession of Proceeds of Crime Over $5000
4) three counts of Fail to Comply Recognizance


Felix Funes Vasquez, 19, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Obstruct Peace Officer
2) Possession of a Schedule I Substance
3) Possession of a Schedule II Substance
4) Possession of Property Obtained by Crime Over $5000
5) Possession of Proceeds of Crime Over $5000


Shane Hendry, 18, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Possession of a Schedule I Substance
2) Possession of a Schedule II Substance
3) Possession of Property Obtained by Crime Over $5000
4) Possession of Proceeds of Crime Over $5000
5) three counts of Fail to Comply with Court Disposition


Symisha Murray, 19, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Possession of a Schedule I Substance
2) Possession of a Schedule II Substance
3) Possession of Property Obtained by Crime Over $5000
4) Possession of Proceeds of Crime Over $5000


Abdulwahab Sheikh, 18, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Possession of a Schedule I Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
2) Possession of a Schedule II Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
3) Possession of Proceeds of Crime


Keron Christie, 32, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) Possession of a Schedule I Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
2) Possession of a Schedule II Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking
3) Possession of Proceeds of Crime


Chanelle Espinosa, 20, of Toronto, has been charged with:
1) two counts of Trafficking in Persons Under 18 Years
2) Material Benefit
3) Procuring
4) Exercise Control


The following man has not been apprehended and is wanted on an arrest warrant:
Levi Alexander, 19, of Toronto, is wanted for:

1) Trafficking in Persons Under 18 Years
2) Material Benefit
3) Exercise Control
4) Obstruct Justice
5) Obtain Bail in False Name

All affected individuals are encouraged to come forward and report to police. They will have access to support services regardless of whether they decide to proceed criminally.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7474, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at www.222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637), or Leave A Tip on Facebook. Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.

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