More details surrounding the 43 victims rescued last week in Barrie and Wasaga Beach from a labour human-trafficking ring at various local resorts were released by police at a news conference, Feb. 11, in at the Holiday Inn (Fairview Rd.) in Barrie.
The police investigation revealed the Mexican-born workers had paid traffickers large sums of money to leave their home country and be transported to Canada, where they were forced to live in squalid conditions at locations in Barrie and Wasaga Beach.
The victims, who were transported by the traffickers to and from forced work locations in Collingwood, Innisfil, Oro-Medonte and Cornwall, had their wages controlled and were charged fees for accommodations and transportation.
Police began investigating the ring in 2018 after information that suggested the workers were being trafficked and/or defrauded by a cleaning company based in Barrie.
The victims had been brought to Canada under the pretense of being here for educational purposes or the promise of work visas and eventual permanent residency status.
Charges have yet to be laid.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” said Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum, provincial commander of OPP Investigations and Organized Crime. “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.”
On Feb. 5, some 250 frontline and support unit members from the Ontario Provincial Police, Barrie Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) executed a dozen search warrants in Barrie and Wasaga Beach.
As a result, the 43 victims, mostly males ranging in age from 20 to 46 years old, were rescued, re-housed and provided with legal employment.
“Whether it involves forced labour or the sex trade, human trafficking is not welcome and has no place in any community,” Barrie Police Service Chief Kimberley Greenwood said. “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.”
While charges are expected to be laid at a later date, police and community support advocates remind everyone that if they believe they or someone they know is a victim of any form human trafficking, to contact police or community victim services for assistance.