“Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, generally for sexual exploitation or forced labour…Human traffickers exploit human vulnerabilities created by poverty, sexism, racism, wage inequality, and a lack of education, social supports, and employment opportunities.”

So begins Canada’s latest national strategy to combat human trafficking. Yet, the news stories continue apace.

In 2019, CHEK News reported that “Montreal police would like to hear from any potential victims of Sulyvan Dignard, who was arrested May 9 in Victoria on allegations of human trafficking…Montreal investigators have said there could be victims in Montreal, Victoria and other Canadian locations.”

Even if left unsaid, there’s one thing in common with most human trafficking in Canada: the Hells Angels.

Chances are if a teenage girl, or woman, is being trafficked in Canada, the Hells are there or not far behind.

One recent story stood out for another reason, however.

As the Regina Leader Post reported on January 30, “Three men and one woman from British Columbia are due in a Swift Current courtroom Friday on human trafficking-related charges after RCMP officers intercepted three speeding vehicles outside that city earlier this week.”

The four – twins Seyed Kourosh Miralinaghi and Seyed Kamran Miralinaghi, both 19, Shawn Alexander Kelly, 23, and Shermineh Sheri Ziaee, 36 – all reside on Vancouver Island.

Ziaee, mother of the twins, was also charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

A week after her arrest, Ziaee was released on $1,000 cash bail, roughly the cost of four hours with an escort in Saskatchewan.

One notable feature of many of the escort ads in that prairie province are the number of B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec area codes that are used.

The reason the story was especially noteworthy, however, is because of Sheri’s family name – Ziaee.

The Ziaee family is no stranger when it comes to crime stories in B.C. They’re not the Soprano’s, but they’re hardly Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.

Sheri has faced charges for breach of probation, failure to appear and is currently facing theft charges in Victoria.

One of her twin sons, Seyed Kourosh Miralinaghi, is facing similar charges in Nanaimo to those filed in Saskatchewan.

Another family member, Kourosh Ziaee, is known in some international law enforcement circles as “the ghost.” In 2002, he was charged with bank fraud and money laundering in the United States.

According to the Albany Times-Union, “the scheme involved stolen and forged Canadian checks that were cashed throughout the United States, including in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Louisville, Ky.”

Organizers used middlemen “to recruit people to open bank accounts and deposit the checks.”

After they took their cut, the rest of the money found its way to Ziaee, who “then sent most of the money to Iran, where it disappeared,” according to a sentencing transcript in a related case.

Sheri’s brother, Ali Arash Ziaee, then 30, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in 2016, following a plea agreement, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

At the time of sentencing, he was described as being on “the lower end of the drug hierarchy in this enterprise,” even though the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, in 2014, labelled him as one of two “alleged high-level Vancouver Island drug traffickers.”

One of the mitigating factors in Ali’s sentencing, according to Justice B.D. MacKenzie was “first, and perhaps most significantly” that he entered a guilty plea.

In many ways, his case mirrored that of Arman Dhatt, 19, who pleaded guilty to similar charges only a few months before in Surrey. He was sentenced to four years. In both cases Crown counsel was the same person.

And yet – despite all of this – Kourosh Ziaee and Shamci Hafezian appear in B.C.’s public accounts for 2013/14 under government transfers.

They received $26,853 from the Ministry of Children and Family Development that year.

The Saskatchewan arrests did serve one purpose. The heightened awareness led Jim Bence, the president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, to announce that he and other hotel industry presidents would “help aid the fight against human trafficking.”

Now, if only every news story on human trafficking could include this: “Survivors of human trafficking, or those who suspect someone else might be a victim, can call the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking’s hotline at 1-833-900-1010, or visit the organization’s website.”

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC www.integritybc.ca

Dermod Travis

Executive Director, IntegrityBC