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Mexican workers rescued from 'deplorable conditions' in York Region

5 people are charged, including men from East Gwillimbury and Vaughan, following a search of a farm, houses in East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto, Mississauga

Sixty-four Mexican nationals rescued from labour trafficking ring were living and working in deplorable conditions, York Regional Police said. 

The service began investigating in November 2022 when a male worker contacted police to report the conditions in which he was living and working. The investigation was dubbed Project Norte and was completed in partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency. 

It found that a number of foreign workers had been brought to Canada through a criminal organization that enticed them here on false pretenses and the promise of a good life, police said. 

The reality instead, according to Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida, was that these workers were "subject to deplorable living and working conditions with no way out."  

He said these workers were often desperate and in fear and were unable to escape their situation due to threats, coercion, fear they would be arrested, or not knowing how to navigate systems of support here. 

On Feb. 8, 2023, search warrants were executed at five properties through East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto and Mississauga. This included a farm and a number of residential properties. 

As a result of this, 64 exploited workers, all of whom are Mexican nationals, were rescued. The conditions they had been living in were deplorable, police said. 

Investigators found there was overcrowding, dozens of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor and bug infestion. The workers were also transported from the houses to their workplaces via private buses that were in a state of disrepair. Once at work, they often completed manual labour and worked long hours for little pay. 

“Our members were shocked at the conditions the victims were living in and wanted nothing more than to do everything they could to assist them,” Almeida said. 

A victim support centre was set up that same day to provide services and aid to those who were rescued. Fifty-three of the 63 accepted help. 

Jasmine De Fina, a human trafficking specialist with Victim Services of York Region, which provided support to the survivors, said a lot of the early work involved building rapport and trust with the workers, as they had previously been living under threat and fear of being deported. 

"They just wish to provide financial support to their families," she said of the victims, adding that they are kind and humble. 

Police and Canada Border Services Agency did not comment on the current status of the 64 workers and whether they were still in Canada or what that process would be moving forward, but confirmed that there is a victim-focused approach in this investigation. 

On Feb. 8, police also arrested five individuals and laid a total of 46 charges related to labour trafficking. The following people were charged: 

  • Hiram Amaury Martinez Rodriguez, 48, of East Gwillimbury
  • Tre Trinh, 45, of Vaughan
  • Thi Him Huyen Vu, 49, of Vaughan
  • Jesus Navarrete Garcia, 51, of Toronto
  • Monserrat Monjaras, of Mississauga

Arrest warrants have also been issued for two other individuals, 31-year-old Juan de Jesus Rosales Gomez and Luis Alberto Garcia Galvan. 

Police are also appealing to anyone who believes they are the victim of human trafficking to contact them. In both English and Spanish, Almeida said to victims that they are there to help. 

Police added that this project has been incredibly difficult for many members, especially Spanish-speaking members of the service. 

“This investigation has been a difficult one. To see the state of the workers’ living conditions, considering the promises that were made to them, was heartbreaking,” said Chief Jim MacSween. “The Spanish-speaking officers who assisted in the investigation were also deeply affected, as they could see the reflections of their own families and friends in the faces of these hard-working people who were only trying to find a better life.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact YRP's human trafficking section at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 6800. You can also leave an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or online



Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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