Published March 3, 2023

Ontario police rescue 64 Mexican nationals allegedly exploited for labour

Police say they learned traffickers had enticed workers to come to Canada with promises of a good job and a better life
York Regional Police

More than 60 Mexican nationals lured to Canada with the promise of good jobs were made to live and work in "deplorable" conditions and feared deportation if they spoke out, police said Friday as they announced arrests in an international labour trafficking ring. 

York Region police said 64 people were rescued last month from locations across the Greater Toronto Area. Five members of an alleged criminal human trafficking organization are facing multiple charges and police are looking for two others. 

Det. Sgt. Gary McBride said the men and women who were trafficked worked at farms, factories and warehouses and were taken from their living quarters to their workplaces on private buses. 

"The foreign labourers described ... living in deplorable conditions, including overcrowding, with dozens of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor, a lack of food, a lack of privacy and bug infestations," McBride said.

"They also described forms of coercion and control, which included isolation, a lack of freedom, being financially bound, threats and sexual assault."

McBride said those who were rescued ranged in age from people in their 20s to their 40s.

"It really is a variety of victims that have been found in this case," he said.

A group that works with police to help survivors of human trafficking said the Mexican nationals agreed to come to Canada so they could support their families. 

"These survivors are so humble, respectful, kind and gentle," said Jasmine De Fina, a specialist with Victims Services of York Region.

"The survivors feared that they would be charged and deported as this is a normal fear for survivors of human trafficking." 

Police began investigating in November after receiving a tip from another Mexican national.

During the three-month investigation, which consisted of surveillance and interviews with various witnesses, police said they learned alleged traffickers had enticed workers to come to Canada with promises of a better life. 

Once the workers arrived, however, police alleged they were compelled to work long hours for little pay, while their alleged exploiters reaped the benefits of their labour.

"To see the state of the workers’ living conditions, considering the promises that were made to them, was heartbreaking," said York police Chief Jim MacSween wrote in a statement.

"The Spanish-speaking officers who assisted in  the investigation were also deeply affected, as they could see the reflections of their own families and friends in the faces of these hard-working people who were only trying to find a better life.”

Investigators carried out search warrants on a farm, a large estate home, a bungalow, a townhouse and a condominium located in East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto and Mississauga.

A 45-year-old faces 10 charges including one count of participation in a criminal organization and six counts of human trafficking. A 49-year-old arrested faces six trafficking-related charges. Others arrested face a variety of trafficking-related charges. 

Investigators are looking into how the alleged traffickers targeted the labourers in Mexico and how long the trafficking ring has been operating for. Police said they believe the main operators of the ring had been arrested.

York Regional Police Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida urged Canadians to inform police if they suspect employers are exploiting foreign labourers.

"People that have been trafficked and exploited in this way are often desperate. They're scared to seek help, worried that they may be the ones arrested and deported," he said. 

"If anyone suspects a farm, factory or warehouse, or any other business mistreating foreign workers, please report it to the police."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

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