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Sunday, May 26, 2024
Governor General honours NOTL man for work in fighting human trafficking
Peter Warrack at his home in NOTL. Warrack's work to raise awareness about human trafficking has him the Meritorious Service Cross from the Governor General. (Evan Saunders)

For every instance of evil in the world there are those filled with good who strive against it. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s own Peter Warrack is one such person. 

Warrack is receiving the Meritorious Service Cross from the Governor General in recognition of his work to combat human trafficking in Canada and abroad.

“It’s actually a big responsibility,” Warrack said about receiving the prestigious honour.

“Because I see myself as the custodian of this award. My immediate thoughts are to the people that actually made it and continue to make it a reality, to fight human trafficking.”

Warrack has been a financial investigator for more than 30 years. In 2016, he turned his decades of investigative skills toward chasing the money behind human trafficking and launched Project Protect.

“I was in an anti-money laundering conference in Toronto. At the end of the day a victim of human trafficking, Timea Nagy, basically confronted the audience of bankers and said, ‘Help us to try and put an end to human trafficking. You guys can see the money,’ ” Warrack said in an interview.

“And it just hit me as a reality, ‘Yeah, you’re right. We probably could (help stop human trafficking),’ ” Warrack said.

He said he knew next to nothing about human trafficking at the time and set about working with Nagy and other victims of the crime to learn all he could. His investigative team at the Bank of Montreal researched the issue and Project Protect was launched in January 2016.

It works to follow the money that funds human trafficking in Canada and abroad. Indeed, tracking finances is one of the main ways to hunt down such criminal activities, Warrack said.

“You would think that this type of industry is all cash based, and a lot of it is, but the bad guys, the pimps, still need to use the traditional banking system of credit cards, debit cards, accounts to put money in or take money out,” he said.

“If they want to book a hotel, for instance — unless it’s like a minus-five star hotel or something — the hotel’s not going to accept cash. There’s going to be a credit card involved.”

Warrack explained how following money flow is essential to criminal investigations.

“There was a Calgary police officer investigating a trafficking case in Calgary. We, being the banks, have a look at it, looked at the accounts of the pimp and maybe the victim,” he said.

“And we realized, ‘Hang on, it’s not just Calgary. Before that, they were in Victoria or wherever.’ And we’d be able to inform the police that this is not just a local investigation in Calgary, this is a cross-Canada investigation we are looking at and here’s the evidence.”

While Project Protect has been instrumental in fighting human trafficking in Canada, Warrack isn’t just proud of the work to try to end human trafficking.

“The main thing for me, for Project Protect is, as it’s evolved I realized this is not about human trafficking. This is about the ability of the private and public sectors to work together. Governments and banks in this instance,” he said.

Project Protect’s success comes from extensive collaboration among private financial companies, federal and provincial police and investigative units, he said.

Warrack was a senior officer with the United Kingdom’s police force in Belfast for many years before moving to Canada to head up the Royal Bank of Canada’s intelligence unit. He believes his experience working in the public and private sector enabled him to help build Project Protect.

“I came with some credibility in both the law enforcement side and also the banking side, and people lined up behind me and said, ‘How can we help?’”

And thus, for Warrack, Project Protect represents “a true partnership between the public and private sectors.”

“We’re all in this together, we just have different roles to play. But collectively we can do it a lot better.”

Warrack is also proud of offshoot programs inspired by Project Protect in Canada and around the world.

Thanks to his efforts to raise awareness, human trafficking programs have launched in places such as Germany and the Vatican.

One of those is Project Recover, started by Toronto’s Richard Dunwoody. It aims to help victims of human trafficking rebuild their financial lives once they have been rescued.

“He’s worked with about 150-odd victims and helped them rebuild their financial integrity. I think it’s gone further than that now and he’s helped raise money for shelter for victims as well,” Warrack said.

This follow through effort is close to Warrack’s own values.

“That was the missing piece for me. All these victims are rescued, hopefully, and taken out of the game, as it’s called, but they’re left pretty much on the road with no credit worthiness, nothing. They’ve been stripped of everything,” he said.

“The pimps basically get the victims to open an account and then the pimps control the account.”

He said Scotiabank and the Bank of Montreal now have programs to help restore victims' financial credit.

Project Protect has also inspired the creation of specialized human trafficking units in police forces across Canada – including one in Niagara Region.

All these offshoot initiatives align with one of Warrack’s maxims for the work he does: to raise awareness.

“When I started, a big part of it was raising awareness and that through awareness comes action,” he said,

Warrack has delivered lectures around the world about human trafficking, from the United States to Vatican City, to parliaments and conventions. He is now working on a project with NASA.

He also is working on ways to educate people on the dangers of cryptocurrency and its association with online child abuse material.

Warrack said people should never assume horrible things like human trafficking don’t happen in their community, referencing the discovery of an apparent puppy mill in Old Town last summer as a close-to-home example.

“There’s kind of a feeling that it never happens here in good old Niagara-on-the-Lake, and, to a certain extent, that’s true. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if an Airbnb was rented for a period of time and used as a base for clients to go and do their dirty business.”

“I don’t want to have a go at the short-term rental industry and other things like that. I’m not aware of it happening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but it’s just a reality.”

Regarding his award, Warrack said there are too many people for him to thank and he would inevitably leave people out. But he said the one entity he is grateful to for making Project Protect so successful is the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, more commonly known as FINTRAC.

“Without FINTRAC this never would have happened and it would not have continued.”

With the large volume of important yet intense work Warrack engages in every day, one may wonder how the investigator fills what little free time he has.

“During the summer, cycling and golf. I just started to play golf last year and I’d like to be a lot better at that,” he said with a laugh.

But Warrack’s main interest speaks to why he is the right man to be heading up investigation units and inspiring a crackdown on human trafficking across the country.

“I love learning. Basic cryptocurrency, technology — you know, there’s something to learn every minute of the day, so that consumes me.”

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