Four charged in human trafficking probe that freed alleged 'modern day slaves'

Four people have been charged in a human trafficking investigation that freed dozens of alleged "modern-day slaves" in Barrie, Ont., earlier this year, provincial police said Thursday.

The charges relate to a probe unveiled in February, when authorities said they had rescued 43 people who were allegedly forced to work as cleaners at vacation properties in Ontario for as little as $50 per month.

"The 43 victims identified had been brought to Canada under the pretense of being here for either educational purposes or for the promise of work permits and eventual permanent residency status," OPP said in statement.

"The victims had initially paid the traffickers large sums of money to leave their home country and be transported to Canada. Once here, the victims were made to live in squalid conditions ... the victims were transported by the traffickers to and from forced work locations."

In February, police said criminal charges were pending, with authorities focusing on the workers' needs as investigators monitored the people running a cleaning company that allegedly employed the workers.

On Thursday, police said a 51-year-old man and three women, aged 19, 24 and 54, faced criminal charges that include trafficking in persons and participating in the activities of a criminalorganization

The four are also charged under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with employing a foreign national without authorization and are due in court in Barrie on July 3.

Police said the charges relate to the accused's involvement with RTL Services, a company that allegedly supplied Mexican-born workers as forced labour to a number of businesses that were unaware of the employees' circumstances.

The investigation was launched last year after police received several tips from the public.

The operation breaking up the alleged human trafficking ring took place on Feb. 5 and also involved the Canada Border Services Agency, police said.

"Thanks to advanced, victim-focused planning, the 43 victims - mostly males ranging in age from 20 to 46 years - were brought to safety, re-housed and provided with legal employment," police said Thursday.

OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum had said in February that the workers were driven to and from towns in central and eastern Ontario every day and forced to clean vacation properties and a hotel.

They were made to pay their alleged traffickers large sums of money for transportation and housing, and were only allowed to keep less than $50 a month in some cases.

As many as 250 officers and support staff searched 12 properties 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 at the time.

© 2019 The Canadian Press