Police rescue dozens of Mexican nationals exploited in GTA labour trafficking ring
Posted March 3, 2023 7:06 am.
Last Updated March 3, 2023 12:45 pm.
Seven people are facing charges and more than 60 foreign nationals were rescued as a result of an international labour trafficking investigation, York Regional Police say.
The investigation, dubbed ‘Project Norte,’ was a joint effort between police in York Region and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Investigators say they rescued 64 Mexican-born nationals who were allegedly exploited through a trafficking ring. Seven suspects have been charged with multiple offences related to a human trafficking organization.
“The victims in this case were subject to deplorable living and working conditions with no way out,” said York Regional Police Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida, providing an update from police headquarters in Aurora on Friday morning.
“People who have been trafficked and exploited in this way are often desperate. They are scared to seek help, worried they may be the ones arrested and deported.”
Police began investigating in November 2022 after receiving a tip that workers were being exploited in York Region.
Investigators say they were able to determine “that an organized group of criminals enticed the victims into Canada with promises of good work and a better life.”
It is alleged the victims ended up living in unsanitary spaces and were exploited for labour at farms, factories and warehouses across the GTA, working long hours for little pay.
“They described living in deplorable conditions with dozens of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor, a lack of food, a lack of privacy and bug infestations,” said Det. Sgt. Gary McBride.
It’s also alleged the victims were transported to the work sites in private buses that were in disrepair. Officials seized nine vehicles, including “three dilapidated buses” they say were used to transport the workers to sites across the GTA.
Police say they were able to rescue the Mexican nationals after executing search warrants at five properties in Toronto, Mississauga, Vaughan, and East Gwillimbury. The victims were a mix of men and woman and ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s.
“We are here to send a message to anyone finding themselves in a similar situation,” said Almeida. “We are here to help.”
Police are not sharing the exact locations or company names because the Ministry of Labour is still investigating.
Five people were taken into custody as a result and warrants were issued for two outstanding suspects.
Charges laid in ‘Project Norte’