BARRIE, Ontario (AP) — More than 40 Mexican “modern day slaves” who were allegedly forced to work as cleaners at vacation properties in Canada for as little as $50 a month have been freed and offered legitimate employment, police said Monday.
The Ontario Provincial Police and the Barrie, Ontario, force said they launched an investigation last year after receiving multiple tips from the public. They alleged that the Mexicans were lured to Canada believing they would be offered jobs and educational opportunities.
“The 43 victims were transported to Canada, coached on what to say as they entered the country but then made to live in squalid conditions at locations in Barrie and Wasaga Beach,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum said. “From there, their situation only became worse.”
Authorities said no arrests have been made but added that they expect to file charges.
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The operation targeting the alleged human trafficking ring took place Feb. 5 and also involved the Canada Border Services Agency, police said.
The Mexican workers have since been offered accommodations and legitimate employment at a local resort, Barrie police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said. He added that the individuals are communicating with Immigration and Refugees Canada about their status in the country.
“We have to acknowledge that this is the first time that we have seen a labor human trafficking operation of this nature and size in our area,” Greenwood said.
The workers, whose hometowns were not released, arrived in Canada by plane, police said.
Barnum said the workers, who were mostly men, were driven to and from towns in central and eastern Ontario every day and forced to clean vacation properties and a hotel. They allegedly were made to pay the traffickers large sums of money for transportation and housing, and only were allowed to keep less than $50 a month in some cases.
As many as 250 officers and support staff searched 12 properties last week and rescued the workers from their situation, Barnum said.
“One of the victims said to our officer: ‘Last night, I went to bed a slave. This morning, I woke up a free man,'” he said.
Police are keeping close track of two people who were allegedly running the Barrie-based cleaning company that employed the foreign workers as the investigation continues, Barnum said. He said criminal charges would be laid later.