In me­mory of Janos Acs

A Spec reader has found a way to hon­our and re­mem­ber the vic­tim of a hu­man traf­fick­ing ring

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NI­COLE O’REILLY nor­eilly@thespec.com 905-526-3199 | @Ni­coleatTheSpec

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.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON 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.

, PHOTO COUR­TESY DAVID HARPER

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