In memory of Janos Acs
A Spec reader has found a way to honour and remember the victim of a human trafficking ring
My desk phone rings on a Thursday morning in June and a man I’ve never met, David Harper, said he’s downstairs. He wants to talk about Janos Acs.
Acs is a name I haven’t heard in a while. But it’s one I’ll never forget.
He was one of more than 20 rescued from what became the largest human trafficking ring ever prosecuted in Canadian history — the Domotor-Kolompar criminal organization that recruited people from their native Hungary to come to Hamilton where they were forced into modern-day slavery.
Acs was bold, choosing to stay in Hamilton when other victims fled to shelters out of town, escaping members of the criminal family who tried to track them down. But he was also broken — often drinking too much, he spent time in hospital after a serious beating and was unable to make a new life for himself, despite being offered safe haven in Canada.
On June 10, 2014, Acs lay down on train tacks in central Hamilton and died by suicide.
Harper never met Acs. But he read the stories about Acs’ death and a memorial service by the officers who rescued him in The Spectator three years ago, and couldn’t forget Acs’ name. He found himself often searching for the stories to reread online.
“It bothered me that his life ended that way,” Harper said.
He worried Acs would be “quickly forgotten.” So Harper started lighting votive candles and having an occasional mass said in Acs’ name at church. Still that didn’t feel like enough. Harper is a retired teacher, having spent 22 years working for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and, before that, working for nine years for the Children’s Aid Society.
He was looking for a charity to make a regular commitment to and decided last year to start making regular donations to Sleeping Children Around the World — a charity that donates bed kits to children, including a mat, mosquito net and school supplies.
He decided to make the donations in Acs’ name.
So far, he’s funded nine kits (they cost $35 each and are distributed by volunteers). Each time, a volunteer takes a photo with the kit and child — and a sign that says, “In memory of Janos Acs from David Harper.”
When I go downstairs to meet Harper in the lobby of the Spectator, he has one of the photos for me, showing a smiling boy sitting in front of one of the kits given out in Honduras. Other kits have gone to children in Guatemala, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Togo and the Philippines.
He wanted me to know how much my stories affected him and to know that Acs wasn’t forgotten. He wasn’t there trying to get me to write a story, and said he’d been meaning to bring me a photo for a while.
Now that photo is pinned to the partition on my desk.
He just wanted to make sure that Acs wasn’t forgotten. The donations will continue indefinitely.
“It doesn’t take much to be kind,” Harper said.
For the officers who investigated the case, the donations are moving.
“It moves me deeply to see the memory of our friend and survivor, Janos, be honoured,” said RCMP officer Lepa Janokovic. “This action speaks to the concern and interest that Canadians have in the lives of victims of human trafficking. I’m thankful that his memory will be eternal.”
Fellow RCMP officer Husam Farah said, “I’m amazed that someone took the time to honour another he’s never met.”
“Janos holds a special place in my heart and I will never forget him,” said Canada Border Services Agency officer Deb Kerr. “He was a strong, sweet and simple man that deserves to be remembered.”
I’ve written nearly 50 articles about the Domotor-Kolompar human trafficking ring, from when the more than 20 victims were first rescued, to the prosecution of all charged and the eventual deportation of more than 20 members of the criminal organization.
I travelled to Papa, Hungary — the small village where the criminals and many of the victims were from. Janos was from nearby Bakonybel. Before agreeing to come to Canada on the promise of work in the family’s construction business, he had never left Hungary.
He was the first victim I met with in person. The first brave enough to share his story with The Spectator.
“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,” he said during an interview at a Hamilton shelter in 2010.
His sister Anna doesn’t speak English and doesn’t have access to the Internet, but I was able to share Harper’s actions through a Hungarian journalist who The Spectator has worked with in the past.
Anna said she was happy someone was so touched by her brother’s story, but she’s also a bit sad.
Acs’ family in Bakonybel has struggled to get information about what happened to him, including initially where he was buried in Eastlawn Cemetery, and say they still haven’t been able to receive a death certificate.
Harper’s donations are a small gesture from a complete stranger. And a reminder that in a world where there are people trying to make money off another human being’s suffering, there are also people willing to help.
Janos Acs was the first victim I met with in person. The first brave enough to share his story with The Spectator.
David Harper was so moved by the story of Janos Acs, a victim of a human trafficking ring that brought him from his small village in Hungary to Hamilton where he died by suicide, that he decided to honour the man by donating to a children’s charity in his name.