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Police in Ontario free 43 Mexicans brought to Canada by alleged human traffickers

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Ontario Provincial Police say they have freed 43 modern-day slaves brought to Canada from Mexico by alleged human traffickers and forced to work as cleaners at hotels.

The 43, mostly men aged 20 to 46, were coached on what to say when they entered Canada, lived in “squalid” conditions in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, and were transported to hotel and vacation properties in Central and Eastern Ontario to work, police said on Monday. 

All were freed last Tuesday following a joint investigation that involved the OPP, Barrie Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency. 

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum told reporters in Barrie. “Exploitation is the key element of this offence.”

Police said the traffickers allegedly controlled the pay made by the workers. The victims had paid the traffickers large amounts of money to leave Mexico and were charged fees for transportation and lodgings. 

The Mexicans worked at locations in Collingwood, Innisfil, Oro-Medonte and Cornwall, Ont., police said.

In some cases, police said the Mexicans, after paying various fees, were left with less than $50 a month. 

Here is another example of the squalid conditions the workers faced. (Ontario Provincial Police)

‘This morning, I woke up a free man’

One victim reportedly told investigators: “Last night, I went to bed a slave. This morning, I woke up a free man.”

The alleged traffickers have not been arrested or charged.

A number of sources told police last year that a Barrie-based cleaning company, run by two people, was trafficking and defrauding the Mexican-born workers.

OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum says: ‘Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Exploitation is the key element of this offence.’ (CBC)

The Mexicans had been brought to Canada “under the pretense” of being here for educational purposes or the promise of work visas and eventually permanent residency status.

Barnum added the workers are now here legally. Since they were rescued, they have been offered legal work and accommodations at a Barrie-area resort, Barrie police said.

Twelve search warrants were executed last Tuesday in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, six involving residences and six involving vehicles, police say. About 250 police officers were involved. Investigators are digging into the background of the “two people” who ran the cleaning company but they have not been charged.

Labour human trafficking ‘very disturbing,’ police say

Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said the joint investigation involved what she called a “labour human trafficking” situation. She called it “very disturbing.” 

She said labour human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation and harbouring of people for the purposes of exploitation for forced labour. It is not confined to large urban centres, she added.

Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood says: ‘Whether it involves forced labour or the sex trade, the trafficking of humans is unacceptable. It has no place in our communities and will not be tolerated.’ (CBC)

Victims are often members of vulnerable populations, including migrant workers and new immigrants. Victims rarely go to the authorities.

“It is inconceivable that this was taking place in our community,” she said.

Greenwood said the 43 were in brought “under misleading circumstances,” promised safer lives and more opportunities. “These individuals are now free from the control of the people who wished to exploit them for personal gain,” she said.

After the victims were rescued, Greenwood said they went to a Barrie and Area Victim Services centre, where they were offered hot showers, food and clothing, and given medical assessments. Interpreters were made available, she said.

“I am pleased to announce that all of the victims have been offered employment and accommodations at a local resort,” she said.

“Whether it involves forced labour or the sex trade, the trafficking of humans is unacceptable. It has no place in our communities and will not be tolerated.”

All of the Mexicans brought to Canada by alleged human traffickers were freed last Tuesday. (Ontario Provincial Police )

The OPP declined to name the hotels and vacation properties where the men worked and the cleaning company in Barrie.

Criminal charges may be announced at a later date and police said they are looking for other suspects.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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