Four people from Vancouver Island appeared in a Swift Current, Sask., courtroom Friday, charged with trafficking two teenage girls.
Shermineh Sheri Ziaee, 36, of Victoria, her twin sons, Seyed Kourosh Miralinaghi and Seyed Kamran Miralinaghi, both 19, from Nanaimo, and Shawn Alexander Kelly, 24, of Victoria were arrested Tuesday afternoon after an off-duty RCMP officer spotted a three-vehicle convoy speeding east on Highway 1 toward Swift Current.
Police said the three vehicles appeared to be travelling together. They were driving in close proximity, in the same direction and at the same high speed.
Swift Current RCMP officers intercepted them and all three vehicles were pulled over for driving at 153 kilometres an hour.
During the traffic stop, officers spoke to the drivers and the passengers of the vehicles.
They quickly became suspicious of the relationships between the accused and two young female passengers. The girls were sitting in the back seats of separate vehicles, which had tinted windows. The girls had no identification.
The three men are charged with receiving a financial benefit knowing it was obtained from the commission of an offence, transporting a person under the age of 18 for the purpose of exploiting them, procuring a person to offer or provide sexual services, harbouring a person who offers or provides sexual services for consideration and knowingly advertising to provide sexual services.
Ziaee is charged with the same five offences, plus possession of a weapon dangerous to the public.
On Friday, three of the four accused were photographed arriving at the courthouse handcuffed to each other. The men appeared to be grinning. All four spoke to legal-aid officers and consented to remain in custody. They will appear before the court by video next Wednesday. It’s not known if they will apply for bail at that time.
Ziaee will be held in custody at Pine Grove Correctional Centre for women, about 450 kilometres north of Swift Current. The men are being held in the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre.
The two young female passengers are from B.C. They are not related to any of the accused.
The RCMP in Regina said they were not able to provide the hometowns or ages of the teenagers, to protect their identity. They could not say how the girls are being cared for now, or whether they had been returned home.
In the past, police have reported that young girls are trafficked between Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary. Traffickers prey on young, vulnerable girls, showering them with gifts, giving them alcohol and getting them hooked on drugs, before forcing them into prostitution, a situation from which they find it difficult to extract themselves.
Nanaimo has not had any significant issues with human trafficking, said RCMP Const. Gary O’Brien.
“We don’t get that very often. It may fly under the radar, but we haven’t seen too many cases at all,” said O’Brien. “If we catch wind of it, it’s dealt with very quickly with the co-operation of all our community agencies.”
The investigation is ongoing.