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Orillia man faces 21 charges in alleged labour-trafficking case

Ontario Provincial Police laid 21 charges against an Orillia resident in connection with a labour-trafficking investigation. Fifteen alleged victims were identified and provided with support. Supplied by OPP

The Ontario Provincial Police have arrested and charged a man in connection with a labour-trafficking investigation that began late last year involving 15 victims.

OPP  said Friday that the man, an Orillia resident, faces 21 charges. The investigation started on Nov. 21, 2022.

Police say Project Sassafras began when the OPP received a tip that a group of individuals was alleged to be victims of labour abuse.

The Criminal Investigation Branch, with support from the Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy, alleges that the accused promised several individuals a job at his subcontracting company in Orillia. The workers were to be given work permits, training, housing and a good salary, police say.

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Officers say two residences were offered to the workers and that the sleeping conditions were dirty and inadequate, with multiple individuals sleeping in small spaces or sharing a bed.

OPP say the workers were promised work permits, training, housing and a good salary, police say. Project Sassafras. Supplied by OPP

Police say the workers reported only receiving partial or, in some cases, no payment for their work.

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In a statement, police also alleged that the “accused threatened the workers that if they went to the authorities, they would be arrested or deported. He also threatened their families’ safety.”

As a result of the investigation, Juan “Jamie” Rodriguez-Miranda, 59, was arrested on March 15, and charged with 11 counts of human trafficking of persons and 10 counts of material benefits in trafficking of persons.

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“Thanks to their collaborative determination and diligence, 15 victims were supported and ultimately removed from an exploitative situation. We continue to ask the public to remain vigilant and to report any human trafficking to police to help us hold traffickers responsible,” said OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique.

The accused remains in custody pending a bail hearing.

Police said the victims ranged in age from 21 to 54 years old.

Click to play video: 'Human trafficking warning signs'
Human trafficking warning signs

OPP reported that the victims remain supported through the OPP IJFS Victim Specialist and Simcoe Muskoka and Toronto Victims’ Services.

The investigation is ongoing, and it is expected that there are more victims who have yet to come forward, police say.

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OPP say that anyone who suspects or is aware of any human trafficking activity should call local police.

The Mexican Consulate has an emergency number available at 647-448-1329.

“The Consulate General dispensed support to the presumed victims in terms of communication, interpretation and information about their human rights,” the Mexican Consulate General in Toronto said.

“We remain attentive to the evolution of the investigation and to the corresponding sanctions to be determined by the judicial authorities. The consular office joins the call of the OPP to our migrant communities to denounce this kind of inhumane practices, especially if they are directly affected by these contemporary and unacceptable forms of slavery.”

The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking has resources available for victims and survivors of human trafficking on their website at canadiancentretoendhumantrafficking.ca.

A national hotline is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-833-900-1010.

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