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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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Winner in Deep River’s ‘Catch the Ace’ fundraiser

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Mark McEachen is $574,002.50 richer after the ace of spades was drawn in the “Catch the Ace” fundraiser for the Deep River and District Hospital Thursday night.

McEachen, who lives in Douglas, won the weekly prize plus the jackpot. He bought his ticket at the Bear’s Den earlier in the day.

The lottery began nearly a year ago and has raised around $780,000 for the hospital which will be used to buy X-ray and imaging equipment to replace aging equipment.



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Anciens combattants : la réforme d’indemnisation des libéraux jugée inéquitable

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Ce rapport, intitulé Différence de coûts entre les trois régimes de prestations pour les anciens combattants (Nouvelle fenêtre), conclut également que le système des libéraux, appelé Pension à vie, sera moins généreux envers les nouvelles générations de vétérans, en comparaison avec leurs aînés.

Le ministre de la Défense nationale, Harjit Sajjan, qui occupe par intérim le poste de ministre des Anciens combattants depuis la démission de Jody Wilson-Raybould, la semaine dernière, assure toutefois que la réforme proposée par son gouvernement corrigera la plupart des failles des systèmes précédents.

« Le système que nous mettons en place prend soin de nos anciens combattants d’une manière beaucoup plus globale », a affirmé le ministre.

Les anciens combattants qui s’opposent depuis le début à la réforme des libéraux ont plutôt perçu les conclusions du rapport comme une confirmation de leurs craintes, soit que le nouveau régime va à l’encontre de l’équité intergénérationnelle.

Le nouveau régime vise tout simplement à permettre au gouvernement du Canada de faire des économies, et cette intention est savamment dissimulée derrière une série de chiffres et un jargon incompréhensible.

Mark Campbell, major à la retraite

« Le rapport du directeur parlementaire du budget confirme et valide toutes les démarches que nous avons entreprises », a ajouté M. Campbell, en référence à sa propre bataille juridique. Amputé des deux jambes après un déploiement en Afghanistan, le vétéran a intenté une poursuite contre le gouvernement fédéral afin qu’il rétablisse une prestation d’invalidité qui datait d’avant 2006, mais sans succès.

L’analyse comparative menée par le directeur parlementaire du budget, Yves Giroux, arrive exactement à cette conclusion : le système en place avant 2006 était le plus généreux, et ce, pour tous les vétérans.

Une promesse électorale non tenue, selon des vétérans

Les libéraux avaient pourtant promis, en campagne électorale, de réinstaurer la pension d’invalidité à vie après que des vétérans se sont plaints que la somme forfaitaire et les autres allocations visant à la remplacer étaient en réalité moins généreuses.

Les anciens combattants ont alors pris pour acquis que, pour ce faire, un gouvernement libéral remettrait en place le système qui existait avant la création de la Nouvelle Charte des anciens combattants, en 2006. Mais le gouvernement Trudeau a plutôt choisi de mettre sur pied son propre système, qui doit entrer en vigueur le 1er avril.

En somme, de nombreux vétérans estiment que Justin Trudeau n’a pas respecté sa promesse électorale.

Dans son rapport, Yves Giroux estime que le nouveau régime d’indemnisation permettra à la plupart des vétérans qui reçoivent déjà un soutien financier d’augmenter le montant de leurs prestations de 6 à 24 %.

Ceux qui feront leur demande à compter du 1er avril seront toutefois pénalisés en raison de l’élimination d’une prestation d’invalidité spécifique en cas d’inaptitude au travail. « C’est pourquoi les vétérans les plus gravement blessés seront les grands perdants de cette transition », a expliqué Yves Giroux.

Il est impossible de savoir si c’est intentionnel [de la part des libéraux]. Ce que je peux dire, c’est que la panoplie de prestations qui existent pour les vétérans est très, très complexe. Donc il se peut que ce soit une erreur de bonne foi, comme il peut s’agir d’un geste intentionnel. Je n’en sais rien.

Yves Giroux, directeur parlementaire du budget

Pour Brian Forbes, président du Conseil national des associations d’anciens combattants au Canada, qui représente 60 groupes de vétérans, le gouvernement libéral devrait s’empresser de corriger le tir en appliquant plusieurs des recommandations du comité consultatif qui s’est penché sur la question.

Sinon, les libéraux pourraient s’en mordre les doigts lors du scrutin d’octobre prochain, a-t-il mis en garde.



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Alberta to end use of photo radar as ‘cash cow’

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The Alberta government plans to eliminate photo radar as a tool for revenue generation, Transportation Minister Brian Mason vowed Thursday.

“I think in some cases photo radar in the province of Alberta has been a cash cow,” Mason told a news conference in Edmonton. “It’s my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down.”

The government will introduce new guidelines and force municipalities to disclose locations and the rationale for their use at those sites.

Starting March 1, 2020, municipalities will be required to submit reports to the Alberta government showing the cameras are making the roads safer.

Municipal traffic safety plans will have to tie photo radar locations to safety and will be audited by the provincial government.

The government will prohibit the use of photo radar in speed transition zones starting June 1. The new guidelines will, for the first time, define what a transition zone is. The size of a zone varies according to how much a vehicle needs to slow down. For example, a change in speed of 30 km/hr, requires a transition zone of 200 metres, 100 meters on either side of a sign. 

Municipalities will also be prohibited from placing the devices on multi-lane highways, like Anthony Henday Drive in Edmonton, without having documented traffic data to justify them.

Conventional speed enforcement will still be allowed.  

The locations of photo radar cameras will have to be posted online and updated monthly starting June 1.

The new rules come following a $190,000 two-year review on whether municipalities are using photo radar for safety or as a cash cow.

Although the report was commissioned over concerns photo radar was used to generate revenue for municipalities, the report reaches no conclusion given the lack of traffic data.

The third-party review found photo radar has a marginal contribution to traffic safety, reducing collisions rates by only 1.4 per cent.

Mason said most collisions take place at intersections but photo radar is rarely used there. Instead, they are often deployed on stretches of road where drivers usually speed.

Mason said he believes some municipalities were using the program to generate revenue. Some municipalities have fewer photo radar locations but generate more revenue, he said.

“That tells me that there are different factors at play in terms of the decision … on how much photo radar you’re going to deploy, where you’re going to deploy it,” Mason said.

“There’s not a relationship, in many cases, between improved safety outcomes and the deployment of photo radar.” 

 According to the report, in 2016-17 Calgary generated $38.1 million from 950 photo radar locations while Edmonton took in $50.8 million from 272 locations. 

Twenty-seven Alberta municipalities have photo radar programs.

The review began in early 2017. The government hoped to compile data on how photo radar locations are chosen, traffic statistics and how much money municipalities are collecting from the program.

When he announced the review, Mason noted the use of photo radar and resulting revenues increased after the City of Edmonton took over the photo radar program from police.

Edmonton’s program is transparent, mayor says 

Calgary Police issued a statement saying its photo radar program already complies with the new guidelines. 

“We will make any required reporting adjustments and will take additional time to review the findings in depth to determine any further impacts,” the statement said. “We are supportive of the review’s findings as they are intended to enhance public and officer safety.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson insisted the city is transparent and responsible about how it uses photo radar. 

“I think It’s important not to generalize about all municipalities,” Iveson said.

He said Edmonton directs its photo radar revenues to a reserve fund that is used to fund traffic safety initiatives like education, crosswalk and signalling improvements.

Iveson said photo radar revenues from 2018 are lower than the amounts collected in 2016. 

In 2018, some $42 million was collected from photo radar and intersection cameras, a drop of about 27 per cent from $52 million in 2016.  

“The revenue is coming down because people are slowing down, which is a good thing,” he said. 

Gord Cebryk, deputy manager of city operations, said the city will review the province’s new guidelines to determine if changes need to be made. 

“I think most of our locations and our practices are already in compliance, but we want to just make sure that everything is in accordance with the new guidelines,” he said. 

That includes showing why certain locations are chosen, that they don’t unfairly have photo radar in transition zones, such as going from 50 km/h to 60 km/h, “making sure that what we do is always safety-based.”



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