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Police rescue 64 Mexican nationals from 'deplorable' alleged human trafficking ring in Toronto-area

Police have arrested five people and have issued arrest warrants for two others following a months-long investigation into an alleged human trafficking ring that they say was enticing Mexican nationals into Canada with promises of a “better life” and then exploiting them for their labour.

The investigation, dubbed “Project Norte,” began in November after York Regional Police received a complaint from a single Mexican national about his work and living conditions in Canada.

Det. Sgt. Gary McBride said that officers then spoke with other Mexican nationals who also indicated that they had been exploited by an organized crime group operating in the Greater Toronto Area.

The probe was eventually widened to include participation from the Canada Border Services Agency and on Feb. 8 police executed warrants at five properties in East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto and Mississauga.

A total of 64 Mexican nationals were rescued during the execution of those search warrants.

Five suspects were also arrested, three of whom were Mexican nationals residing in the GTA. Police say that some of the accused were “actively transporting foreign workers to their work locations” at the time of their arrests.

“The foreign laborers described incidents of false promises, which included documentation, quality of housing, their work hours, and their pay. They also 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,” McBride said during a news conference on Friday morning.

McBride said that the suspects used various forms of coercion and control to exploit the victims, including isolation, threats and sexual assault.

He said that the victims included a mix of men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who were enticed top come to Canada with promises of “good work” and a “better life.”

Instead, McBride said that the victims were largely deprived of their freedom and transported to “farms, factories and warehouses” across the GTA where they were required to work long hours for little pay.

Those workplaces are not being publicly named at this point as a Ministry of Labour investigation remains ongoing.

A farm that was raided as part of 'Project Norte' on Feb. 8 is shown. (York Regional Police)

Police, meanwhile, are continuing to provide support to the migrants.

McBride said that on the day of the raids a victim assistance centre was set up in York Region in partnership with a local faith organization.

All but 11 of the rescued workers accepted help from that centre, ranging from clothing, to food, to interim housing solutions.

Police say that Spanish-speaking were also brought in during the execution of the raids to help “allay any fears” that the migrants may have had.

“I can't remember an investigation that I've seen in my career where I've seen this many of our officers impacted,” York Regional Police Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida said during Friday’s news conference. “The officers I think really saw themselves in the victims, especially our Spanish speaking officers. They really saw themselves and their families in those types of situations as they were speaking with the victims and learning about where they have come from and how they were exploited in Canada.”

A full list of suspects and the charges they are facing is available here.

More to come… Top Stories

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