Forty-three Mexican workers, most of them men, were rescued by police in Canada from what was described as “modern-day slavery” conditions.
The workers, aged between 20 and 46, had gone to Canada “under the pretense” of being there for educational purposes or the promise of work visas and eventually permanent residency status.
Instead, they were forced to work at cleaners at hotels in central and eastern Ontario.
The workers were kept in what the Ontario Provincial Police described as “squalid” conditions in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, and were transported by their handlers to and from hotels and vacation properties.
Police alleged that the captors controlled the pay made by the workers, who had initially paid their traffickers large amounts of money to leave Mexico and were then charged fees for transportation and lodging. In some cases the workers were left with less than CAD $50 a month.
Their rescue last Tuesday followed the filing of several reports before police last year regarding the operations of a Barrie-based cleaning company run by two people.
The reports indicated that the company was engaged in human trafficking and defrauding its workers.
Upon their release, one victim told investigators: “Last night, I went to bed a slave. This morning, I woke up a free man.”
In the intervening week, all the workers have been given legal immigration status and all have been offered work and accommodations at a Barrie-area resort.
“Whether it involves forced labor or the sex trade, the trafficking of humans is unacceptable. It has no place in our communities and will not be tolerated,” said Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood.
The investigation into the human trafficking and exploitation ring continues with background checks of the two people who ran the cleaning company. Criminal charges may be announced at a later date and police said they are looking for other suspects.