CORNWALL — This Seaway city has been named among a handful of Ontario sites where human traffickers forced Mexican slaves to work as cleaners.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, approximately 250 frontline and support unit members from the OPP, Barrie Police and Canadian Border Services agency executed 12 search warrants in Barrie and Wasaga Beach where 43 victims — mostly men between 20 and 46 years of age — were being kept in “squalid” conditions.
Police say those men have been brought to safety, re-housed and provided with legal employment.
Below, the OPP live-streamed an interview earlier today at a conference that announced the freeing of 43 slaves.
In a news conference today, OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum, Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood and representatives from Canada Border Services Agency, Barrie and Area Victim Services, and County of Simcoe Paramedic Services elaborated on the investigation that freed the involved individuals.
The investigation began last year when police began looking into information that Mexican-born workers were being trafficked and defrauded by a Barrie-based cleaning company. Police say the Mexicans were brought to Canada under the pretence of education or the promise of work visas and eventual permanent residency status.
The victims paid the traffickers large sums of money to leave their home country and be transported to Canada, according to the authorities. But once here, they were made to live in squalid conditions at locations in Barrie and Wasaga Beach. From those sites, the traffickers transported the victims to “forced work” locations in Cornwall, Collingwood, Innisfil and Oro-Medonte.
Police say the traffickers controlled wages and charged the victims fees for accommodations and transportation.
The investigation remains ongoing and police say criminal charges are expected be laid at a later date. But police and community support advocates remind everyone that if they believe they or someone they know is a victim of any form of human trafficking, to contact police or community victim services agencies for assistance.
“Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Labour human trafficking is a difficult crime to investigate. At every stage, our collective concern has been to ensure these 43 victims are well cared for from a personal health and wellness perspective and that they are now safely housed,” said Barnum.
“Whether it involves forced labour or the sex trade, human trafficking is not welcome and has no place in any community. The victims have renewed hope and the possibility of the better life they were promised now that they are free from the control of people who exploited them for personal gain,” said Greenwood.
The authorities have provided the images below of the “squalid” living conditions of the Mexican work crew.