In the early evening hours of June 10, Janos Acs walked onto train tracks in central Hamilton and lay down to die.
The 60-year-old’s suicide, near Emerald Street North, ended a troubled life that authorities thought they had saved.
Acs was among more than 20 people rescued in 2009 by RCMP from the hands of human traffickers who lured them from their native Hungary on the false promise of work. Despite the successful prosecution of his abusers and that he and other victims were given safe haven in Canada, Acs lived out his free days moving in and out of shelters, struggling to find work and drinking heavily.
The now infamous Domotor-Kolompar criminal organization was dismantled in 2010 and stands as the largest human trafficking case in Canadian history. Twenty-three members of the extended family were convicted of various charges between 2012 and 2013.
“I feel very much betrayed and I’m pretty frustrated,” Janos Acs told the Spectator
Canada Border Services Agency regional director Goran Vragovic said he learned of Acs’ death on Tuesday morning, before a news conference announcing that 20 members of thecriminal organization had been deported.
“It’s a tragic conclusion to an already sad story,” he said.
Spectator readers first met Acs in a Hamilton shelter in December 2010. He was the first victim willing to speak publicly.
“I feel very much betrayed and I’m pretty frustrated. I’m kind of all alone and I have no friends to discuss the situation,” he said during an interview for a Spectator special investigation, The gypsy kings, that followed the human traffickers to Hungary.
Acs grew up in a small Hungarian village called Bakonybel and, despite being in his 50s, had never been outside Hungary. He was approached by a member of the organization and offered a construction job in Canada. Ignoring warnings from family, Acs said he agreed.
He immediately realized his mistake.
“When I came over here, the situation became a servant and master thing,” he said.
Acs spent seven months living in the basement of his captor’s Mohawk Road East home. Along with working without pay, he was coached to apply for social assistance and claim to be mentally handicapped.
On two occasions, he escaped from the home, once approaching a police officer on the street. The officers didn’t understand what he was saying, so he went back.
When RCMP showed up in late 2009 and offered him an escape, he agreed to leave. But life in a men’s shelter was not what he thought it was going to be. He had hoped to bring his then 30-year-old son to Canada, but that never happened.
“I appreciate that people are helping me here, but I just can’t get used to this. I don’t regret that I came to Canada, but I didn’t figure it was going to be like this.”
Hamilton police spokesperson Constable Debbie McGreal-Dinning confirmed police were called to the “sudden death” on June 10, in the area of Emerald Street North and Birge Street. The death was deemed non-criminal and McGreal-Dinning said she could not comment further.
Fellow victim Tamas Miko didn’t know Acs well — they were housed in different homes — but news of his death is shocking.
Miko’s family was rescued from Hungary after being threatened over his agreement to testify in court. They live every day in the shadow of the criminal organization.
“I can’t just move on,” he said, adding that there is “so much hatred inside of me.”
Miko has gone back to school to get his high school equivalency. For now, his family lives together, unable to find work, collecting Ontario Works. It’s not the life he imagined for himself when he chose to come to Canada.
Shelley Gilbert, co-ordinator of social work services at Legal Assistance of Windsor, works with Miko to sort through the “roller-coaster” of emotions caused by “living with the effects of human trafficking.”
She’s also invited him to share his story with social service and justice professionals.
Gilbert said there is “no five-minute solution” to the anxieties and other issues survivors are faced with. That’s why there is a need for long-term intensive case management.
Miko said he hopes to one day work to “save people” like Walk With Me founder Timea Nagy did.
Nagy met the human trafficking victims, including Acs, when they were first rescued and continued to support them throughout the court cases. At the time, the Hamilton-based human trafficking rescue organization was just getting started and Nagy largely worked out of her car and got calls on her cellphone at all hours.
Nagy, a native of Hungary and sex trafficking survivor, helped the victims find shelter and often acted as a translator.
Unlike most other victims who fled to different cities to avoid threats, Acs stayed in Hamilton.
“He was troubled,” Nagy said, adding that he was in and out of shelters.
In recent years, Walk With Me bought a safe house that can house up to five victims at once. However, as awareness about human trafficking grows so too has demand for the organization’s services.
Walk With Me gets about $200,000 in funding every year, but to keep up with demand, Nagy said they really need $400,000. They are currently not accepting new clients in the safe house. They are doing front line victim care, but no longer have the staff to respond at any hour.
There is no network of safe houses or rescue organizations across Canada. Many victims, like Acs, end up in shelters.
Burlington MP Mike Wallace, who chairs the federal government’s justice committee said the government is working to help human trafficking victims.
“Have we done enough? I would say most of us would say no, we could do more. But we are actually taking action to make that happen,” he said this week.
Wallace pointed to changes to Canada’s immigration law that allow human trafficking victims to be fast-tracked to permanent resident status.
This law change has allowed the Hungarian victims to stay in Canada.
Wallace also noted the victim bill of rights, which will be debated in the fall. He said this will make victims “part of judicial system to give them a voice.”
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