Man accused of human trafficking skips court in Fort Frances, Ontario

Charlie Windego, 67, is accused of sexual assault and human trafficking in Fort Frances, Ont.


A discretionary bench warrant has been applied to a case involving a 67-year-old First Nations man accused of multiple sexual assaults and human trafficking offence in northwestern Ontario.

This happened after Charles Windego didn’t appear in court last week on a new charge of sexual assault.

“The matter was adjourned on the strength of a discretionary bench warrant, which is a common tool to maintain the court’s jurisdiction until the accused person signs a designation of counsel,” said David Pierce, who appeared on Windego’s behalf.

“A discretionary bench warrant remains with the court until released to police, which would only happen if I lost contact with Mr. Windego.”

It’s wasn’t immediately clear why Windego hasn’t signed a document confirming Pierce as his lawyer considering he is representing Windego on two separate charges of sexual assault and one related to human trafficking in a different case.

That matter was before the court earlier this week and adjourned to next month. Windego also wasn’t at that court appearance and the judge continued the discretionary bench warrant.

Windego allegedly withheld, or destroyed, identification documents of a young woman for the purpose of human trafficking, according to court documents.

Fort Frances is a small border town in Treaty 3, just across the river from International Falls, U.S.

APTN isn’t identifying either of the two complainants in the case, but has interviewed one at length as part of a story APTN Investigates is producing for this fall on sexual exploitation in Treaty 3.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and the trafficking charge, along with two counts of sexual assault, is expected to go to trial later this year.

The trial was scheduled for last month but was adjourned after the Crown got sick and Pierce said on June 23 that he was still getting disclosure, including the results of a forensic audit on the complainant’s mobile phone.

APTN was at that hearing last month and put questions to Windego as he entered the court but he said no comment.

Charles Windego refused to respond to questions from APTN Investigates reporter, Kenneth Jackson, on June 23 in Fort Frances, Ont. APTN Photo: Cullen Crozier.

He refused to comment, again, as he hummed a tune leaving the court.

At the time of the alleged incidents, Windego was the long-time Ontario Works coordinator with Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation (also known as Red Gut).

That’s also where Treaty 3 Police allege the crimes were committed.

Windego’s younger brother is chief of Nigigoonsiminikaaning.

“Thank you for informing me about this very serious matter. I was not made aware of this until I received your message. As you may know, Charlie Windego has not been employed by the First Nation for quite some time. Nonetheless, these are extremely serious charges and allegations and I assure you that my council and I will be conducting a very thorough investigation into this matter,” said Will Windigo, who spells his last name differently.

“In particular, we will look closely at whether there were any violations of our code of conduct and other policies by employees of the First Nation.”

A separate voyeurism charge laid against Windego was stayed last month after it was alleged Windego filmed someone in a private place.

If you have any information on this story or a similar incidents please contact reporter Kenneth Jackson in confidence at 613-325-6073 or [email protected]

Clarification: APTN was provided additional information following the publication of this article relating to the type of bench warrant applied to this case that wasn’t provided during court proceedings on July 19.

Investigative Reporter

Kenneth Jackson is based in Ottawa, Ont. and has worked more than two decades in the business. He got his start in community newspapers before joining the Ottawa Sun in 2007 where he worked the police beat.

In 2011, Jackson joined APTN to break the Bruce Carson scandal with Jorge Barrera that sparked three federal investigations into the former senior advisor to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Carson was later convicted of fraud sparking a court battle to the Supreme Court of Canada. The conviction was upheld and based entirely on APTN’s investigation.

Jackson has focused, almost exclusively, on the child welfare system in Ontario over the last five years. The work has earned multiple awards, including the 2020 Michener Award.

Producer

Cullen Crozier is a video journalist and documentary producer with APTN Investigates. He is Gwich’in, Dene and Métis based out of his home community of Somba K’e, Denendeh (Yellowknife, N.W.T.). Cullen’s work focuses on injustices facing Indigenous people in Canada. He has reported on the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan, the forgotten residential school survivors of Newfoundland and Labrador and the ongoing child welfare crisis in Ontario.

His documentaries have been recognized by the Michener Foundation, the Canadian Association of Journalists, Amnesty International, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Native American Journalists Association and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

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