York Regional Police say 64 Mexican-born nationals have been rescued from an international labour trafficking ring that was operating in Ontario and several people have been charged.
Deputy police chief Alvaro Almeida told reporters on Friday that the information learned through Project Norte was “just as disturbing as it is compelling.”
“Sixty-four of them were subject to deplorable living conditions with no way out,” Almeida said. “Our members were shocked at the conditions they were living in.”
“These workers are coerced with promises of a better life, decent wages, quality housing, and eventually documentation,” Almeida continued. “These are almost always false promises.”
In November 2022, police said they learned that Mexicans were being exploited for labour in the region by an organized group of criminals.
Investigators said that the workers were being driven back and forth from terrible living conditions to worksites in private buses that were also in a state of disrepair.
They also allege the workers were mistreated, abused and exploited for manual labour at farms, factories and warehouses across the Greater Toronto Area.
“The victims lived in squalor and were compelled to work long hours for little pay, while their exploiters reaped the benefits of their labour and lived in luxury,” police allege.
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A few months later, on Feb 8, several police forces across the GTA executed search warrants at five properties in Vaughan, East Gwillimbury, Toronto and Mississauga.
Officers rescued 64 workers — a mix of men and women in their 20s to 40s — who were being exploited, police said.
“It’s not one specific group, it really is a variety of victims that have been found in this case,” said York Regional Police Det. Sgt. Gary McBride who specializes in human trafficking.
He also said the 64 victims did not all come at one time and each individual situation varries.
A director for CBSA, David Glos, would not elaborate on what happened to the Mexicans after they were rescued but said officials are taking a “victim-centric approach on this case and there is empathy for these victims.”
He said victims of human trafficking are typically referred to immigration, refugees and citizenship Canada for interviews for possible temporary residence visas.
Five people, three men and two women, were arrested, police said.
The accused have been charged with multiple counts of trafficking persons, material benefiting as a result of human trafficking, participation in a criminal organization, and sexual assault, among other charges.
Two more people who are also Mexican nationals are wanted by police and are still at large. Investigators said they are looking for 31-year-old Juan de Jesus Rosales Gomez and Luis Alberto Garcia Galvan, unknown age.
Police said warrants have been issued for their arrest.
“If anyone suspects a farm, factory, warehouse or any other business mistreating foreign workers please report it to the police or to the Canadian Centre To End Human Trafficking,” Almeida said. “If anyone knows someone who may be a victim, please reach out.”