Police in Ontario have freed dozens of people from a human trafficking operation officials likened to “modern day slavery.”
The Ontario Provincial Police announced Monday that an investigation revealed 43 people were brought to Canada with the promise of work visas and permanent residency status. The majority male, Mexican-born victims paid large sums of money to leave their home country, police said, but were often left with less than $50 a month to live in “squalid conditions” in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, Ont.
“Human trafficking is modern day slavery,” said the OPP’s Rick Barnum at a news conference Monday. “Exploitation is the key element of this offence.”
The victims, who were between the ages of 20 and 46, were reportedly working for a Barrie-based cleaning company and were transported daily to work at hotels and vacation properties in central and eastern Ontario, Barnum said. Workers were charged fees for the transportation and lodging.
One victim reportedly told an officer: “Last night I went to bed a slave. This morning I woke up a free man.”
The operation was the first of its nature and size seen in the region, said Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood. “This is very disturbing,” she said, adding that while human trafficking for labour purposes is less commonly discussed, it is no less troubling. “It is inconceivable that this was taking place in our community.”
Police executed 12 warrants on Feb. 5, and rescued the 43 victims who were then provided hot showers, food and fresh clothing before interviews were conducted. All victims have been offered accommodation and legal employment at a local resort, said Greenwood.
“To me, this is what it means to be Canadian. Stepping up when others are in need and rectifying wrongs in our community when we’re able to do so,” she said.
Officials said charges will be laid at a later date.
“We aim to discover every dollar that these individuals profited from holding people as labour slaves,” said Barnum.