Since 2016, Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Peter Warrack has been quietly leading the fight against human trafficking world-wide from his Old Town home.
The former Detective Chief Inspector with the Northern Ireland Police Service’s Economic Crime Bureau was recently honoured with a Global Impact Award by the TC Online Institute. Founded by human trafficking survivor Timea Nagy, the TC Institute is an online education platform dedicated to teaching about modern-day slavery from every perspective in an effort to put a stop to the crime.
Warrack was working as the director of group that specialized in anti-money-laundering and financial technology, as an expert financial investigator. in that role, he attended a conference of anti-monehy laundering specialists, in Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) Conference in Toronto in December, 2015. There, Nagy and RCMP officer Lepa Jankovic challenged the attendees to do more to help fight human trafficking.
“I really knew nothing about it, and I was shocked,” Warrack tells The Local. “I stood up to the audience and said to all the bankers there, ‘yes, we can do that’, and I knew I could get the support of the other investigative units who were there.”
Soon Warrack was sitting beside a representative from FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada), the country’s financial intelligence unit. That representative pledged the unit’s support.
“Banks are federally regulated entities, and FINTRAC is a government regulator,” laughs Warrack. “At that time, the two talked only very formally to each other. This was unheard of, them working together.”
Nagy’s challenge became the impetus for Warrack to devise a partnership model that would bring together several major Canadian financial institutions, regulators, law enforcement agencies from the municipal, provincial and federal level, as well as policymakers, non-profit organizations and technology companies. They set two goals: to increase awareness of human trafficking amongst the members’ institutions, and to increase the reporting of suspicious transactions pertaining to possible human trafficking to FINTRAC.
The strategy was everyone working independently but towards a common goal.
Warrack mobilized his team of investigators and analysts, and spent time with Nagy and Jankovic learning more about the shady criminal world of human trafficking.
He set up a meeting about a month after the conference. It was attended by all the banks, some municipal police forces, the RCMP and the Ministry of Public Safety. He pitched his ideas to them, and Project Protect was born.
Through Warrack’s initiative, representatives from all the banks began to learn how to spot the financial signs of human trafficking. It’s all about recognizing, and reporting those financial activities that are red flags for suspicion.
“Money laundering is the movement of illegal money,” says Warrack. “You look for rapid and multiple use of hotel rooms. Frequent use of taxis and Ubers. Frequent fast food purchases. With the victims, you look for once-a-week purchases at pharmacies. That’s the condoms.”
Says Warrack, normal people don’t do all of that. When you weigh up all those transactions together, it points out suspicious behaviour, either by the perpetrators or the victims of human trafficking.
According to the YWCA of Niagara, this region, due to its location near the U.S. border, is an epicentre for the illegal activity. At particular risk are Indigenous women and girls, migrants and new immigrants, LGBTQ2S+ persons, and youth and adults who are socially or economically disadvantaged.
“Because of initiatives like Project Protect, we now have a dedicated human trafficking unit in Niagara,” Warrack says. “The financial stuff allows you to follow the money. You can see the victims and the pimps moving along the trafficking corridor from Toronto, to Oakville, Hamilton, Niagara and Buffalo.”
“Niagara Falls is a party town, a recreational town,” he adds. “The casinos are a natural place where victims hang out. People are there to have a good time. And there’s a lot of poverty in St. Catharines. Taken together, this becomes fertile ground for human trafficking to thrive.”
Beyond educating the banks, Project Protect and other ancillary initiatives have branched out to work with hotel operators. In Toronto, Warrack says police have communicated with Airbnb owners, and they’ve informed truckers’ associations across the country to stay on the alert as well.
Project Protect brought immediate results. In 2015, FINTRAC received 19 disclosures of suspicious activity. The following year, the first for the initiative, 500 reports were sent to the federal regulator. Today, Warrack points out that the number of reports to FINTRAC and disclosures annually reaches into the thousands.
And Warrack is working to ensure his efforts go beyond the borders of Canada. He has presented his methodology at the Vatican for its fight against anti-slavery. His resume lists a plethora of presentations all over the world, including in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Dubai, St. Lucia, and numerous locations in the USA.
That included a security organization in Europe, creating initiatives trying to help victims of trafficking recover themselves financially.
That is a key point in the entire process. Warrack says victims such as Nagy find themselves in a hole financially once they are able to break free from the shackles of human trafficking. With their credit destroyed, they continue to struggle to get back on their feet long after they have moved on from their exploiters.
Project Protect has since spawned Project Recover in Canada. A not-for-profit corporation, it is a volunteer initiative of financial service industry executives that provides support to survivors and advocates on their behalf with creditors. It has also spawned the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking’s national hotline.
As well, other project groups have been created to build upon the concept of Warrack’s methods to alert financial institutions, and subsequently FINTRAC and law enforcement, about suspected fentanyl trafficking, elder abuse, child exploitation and romance fraud.
Warrack has also become an expert in blockchain technology, known by many as crypto-currency, or Bitcoin. His consulting agency now works with various organizations to expose criminal activity in the much-misunderstood cryptocurrency world.
The Global Impact Award Warrack received last week is only the latest recognition he has received for his efforts. Over the years he has received various awards from the anti-money laundering specialists group, and was named the organization’s Professional of the Year in both 2011 and 2017.
But Warrack is not in it for the recognition.
“I’m grateful, but it’s not about awards,” he says. “I’d rather sit in the background and watch other people get involved and make a difference. That’s my motivation, encouraging and mentoring others to be ambassadors and to get involved.”