A single foreign worker blew the lid off a massive international trafficking ring north of Toronto, police say
It began with a tip from a single foreign worker.
Now, police north of Toronto say they have rescued 64 Mexican migrants exploited by an international labour trafficking ring and in living conditions so deplorable that officers themselves have been left shaken.
On Feb. 8, police acting on search warrants in East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto and Mississauga located dozens of workers who they say were lured to Canada with promises of a better future. Instead, they were given mattresses on the floor, housed with dozens in bug-infested rooms, faced threats and, in some cases, say police, sexual assault.
“These workers are coerced with promises of a better life, decent wages, quality housing and eventually documentation. These are almost always false promises,” York Regional Police Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida told reporters on Friday.
One foreign worker — not the one who blew the whistle — spoke to CBC News in the days following the raid, and described the squalid housing he and others were forced to pay for out of their wages.
The man, in his 20s, was a farm worker, but managed to leave before the police raid. CBC News has agreed to protect his identity because he fears deportation.
At 5 a.m. each morning, he said a bus would take the workers to a farm where they would pack vegetables. At the end of the week, he says he would be left just $50 in a cash envelope — after deductions for food and lodging.
At the Toronto duplex where he was housed, there were six to eight workers in a room, pairs of two sharing a mattress, he said in Spanish.
“We really came to suffer from deception by those who hired us, with extensive work hours and sleeping in dirty places with cockroaches and bedbugs… These were the daily conditions we faced.”
5 charged, 2 more wanted
The investigation began in November 2022 after one Mexican national contacted police, police said at a news conference.
Over the next three months, investigators spoke with several others who provided similar accounts and found they’d been exploited by a trafficking ring operating not only in York Region but across the Greater Toronto Area, police said. Workers were living in squalor, forced to work long hours with little pay and bussed in to work at farms, factories and warehouses, all while their exploiters lived lives of luxury, police allege.
The names of those businesses have not yet been released as the Ontario Ministry of Labour continues its investigation.
Five people have been arrested, including two Canadian citizens and three Mexican nationals, facing 44 charges between them including human trafficking, materially benefiting from trafficking people and participating in a criminal organization, among others.
Two others remain wanted.
As for the foreign workers, police say Spanish-speaking officers from York Regional Police as well as police in Peel, Toronto and the Ontario Provincial Police explained what was happening and offered workers support. Of the 64 workers found, 53 accepted the help and continue to be supported, police say.
Officers saw themselves in those seeking ‘better life’
“To see the state of the workers’ living conditions, considering the promises that were made to them, was heartbreaking,” said York police 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 hardworking people who were only trying to find a better life.”
Exactly how they were recruited in Mexico remains under investigation, police say.
Almeida said he knows labour trafficking victims may be afraid to come forward, afraid to seek help for fear they’ll be arrested and deported.
To anyone in that position he said, “We’re here to help.”
But one advocate says Canada’s own immigration system has serious gaps that can leave migrant workers fearful about coming forward about the exploitation they face.
‘A systemic issue,’ advocate says
“What we see often in situations like this is that police come in, do a big splash, call it human trafficking … and within a few weeks, workers are being deported,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance of Canada.
Rather than police, who lack the tools to secure rights for exploited workers, immigration, housing and labour authorities should work to ensure the workers aren’t doubly punished, first by being exploited and then by being removed from Canada, he said.
“This is a systemic issue…. Many migrants are facing these issues because they don’t have permanent residence rights,” said Hussan.
The federal government has said it is working on a regularization program to grant status to undocumented migrants in Canada, but Hussan says despite making that promise over a year ago, there’s been no update.
“We’re calling on the federal government to not delay,” he said.
But no matter their status, he says, if workers were brought to Canada under false pretences, the federal government should act to secure them proper work permits.
“Our concern is what will happen to the workers after the spotlight shifts and the police move on.”
But Cynthia Moreno of the Consulate General of Mexico in Toronto says she expects the workers will likely have some status in Canada.
“If they are potential victims, that guarantee comes first, the guarantee of their rights as victims.”
They were turned away at the Canadian border. Now what? – CBC.ca
Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station.
After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do.
They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week.
Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.
“I’m trying to think about what to do now.”
A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.
“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.
He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall.
“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.
The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”
The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.
Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada.
“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.
The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.
The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.
The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him.
“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.
A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.
Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.
“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”
Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.
“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.
The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City.
Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.
The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.
3 nights in a motel and no plan
Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.
“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.
The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.
In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.
He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said.
The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.
The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal.
CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.
Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout.
Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S.
He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.
“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”
The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said.
“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.”
On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.
By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.
What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered
Canada’s economy might be recovering from the pandemic, but many Canadians are still struggling with the cost of living, thanks, in part, to the impacts of global inflation.
To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has built some benefit increases and fee reductions into its 2023 budget. Among these measures is a new grocery rebate in the form of a one-time payment for middle- and low-income Canadians that is designed to offset food inflation.
“Our more vulnerable friends and neighbours are still suffering from higher prices,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said after tabling the budget on March 28. “That’s why our budget contains targeted, temporary relief from the effects of inflation for those who need it.”
Here’s what we know about the rebate.
HOW WILL THE GROCERY REBATE WORK?
According to the budget, the benefit will be rolled out through the GST/HST rebate system, once a bill implementing it passes in the House of Commons. This move essentially re-ups and re-brands the recent GST rebate boost.
While no specific date for the payments has been announced, upcoming GST/HST credit payment dates for 2023 include April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5. Because the rebate is automatically rolled into the GST/HST credit, eligible Canadians shouldn’t need to do anything besides file their tax return in order to receive the payment.
WHO GETS THE GROCERY REBATE IN CANADA?
The Grocery Rebate is earmarked for 11 million low- to modest-income Canadians. It will provide eligible couples with two children with up to $467, single Canadians without children with up to $234 and seniors with $225 on average.
The budget doesn’t pinpoint any eligibility brackets based on income, but outlines hypothetical scenarios where a couple earning $38,000 per year and an individual earning $32,000 both received the maximum rebate.
Since the rebate will be rolled into the GST/HST credit, the eligibility criteria for that credit might offer some insight into who will be eligible for the maximum Grocery Rebate amounts.
The GST benefit is reduced as income rises. It’s phased out entirely once income reaches just over $49,000 for a single person, $50,000 for a couple without children and more than $60,000 for a couple with four children.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO FEED A FAMILY OF 4 IN CANADA?
The average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 on food this year, according to the latest Canada’s Food Price Report, published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
“For a family of four, their food bill will increase by about $1,100 this year,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.
The cost of staple grocery items based on March 2023 prices listed on Fortinos.ca. (CTV’s Your Morning)
The most substantial increases will be in the cost of vegetables, dairy and meat, according to the report. Food inflation has softened somewhat in recent weeks, Charlebois said, but even with that softening and the extra cash in their pockets from the grocery rebate, Canadians aren’t out of the woods yet.
“We are expecting things to be a little more manageable for households probably in the summer, (but) not before then,” he said. “We are expecting to finish the year with a food inflation rate of about four to five per cent. It’s still high, but it’s better than 10 per cent.”
HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ON GROCERIES IN CANADA?
As finance commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid pointed out during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, a maximum grocery rebate of $467 for a family of four doesn’t even offset half of the additional $1,100 families can expect to spend on groceries in 2023.
“It’s a small amount that will help a family of four,” she said. “But, is it enough? No, it’s not, we’ve got to get inflation down.”
With their spending power significantly weakened, a growing number of consumers are looking for new ways to save on their grocery bills.
According to a March 22 report published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, some of the methods Canadians are using to save money at the grocery store include reading weekly flyers, using coupons, taking advantage of volume discounting and using food rescue apps such as Too Good To Go and the Second Harvest Food Rescue App.
– With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello
International selling Pop Reggae artist, D Howell Drops New Single “Man Dem”
By way of Spanish Town
Toronto, On – International selling Pop/ Reggae artist, D Howell drops his new single, “Man Dem “available now, on all major music platforms. The release featuring Ding Dong & Nicky B follows a long list of hit music from the talented pop-reggae artist. Howell’s single, ’Wine Bounce” with Jamaican born reggae artist Dominant ft. Nick B was picked up by Universal Music, solidifying Howell’s career with the likes of Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Sarani. The artist contributes his Jamaican roots to the success of his brand. Keeping his early beginnings in Spanish Town, Jamacia close to his heart, “Man Dem” (meaning multiple men) was created. The single is inspired by the multicultural people of Toronto with special consideration to the immigrants from Jamaica. Their specific style of talking is heard on every street corner in Toronto. The new generation have made it their own, a way of bringing and keeping their heritage alive. Howell’s music speaks to that, making the heritage & the music one. The highly anticipated release of “Man Dem” will take you home to Spanish Town.
DJ, producer and artist, D Howell knows what it takes to make hit singles. It’s not just talent that makes a single a hit, but the chemistry & respect for your fellow artists. Knowing what works and what doesn’t between artists is key. Mixing different instruments, sounds and styles to create his always evolving pop reggae sound has made Howell an in-demand producer and artist. From the super hit ‘Jumanji’ to a lineup of multi-selling collaborations featuring his unique reggae influence, Howell makes it work. Collaborations with Karl Wolf (“Fall in Love”), Danny Fernandes (“Party”) and the man himself, Sean Paul (“Time to Party”). Howell writes for and brings together a wide range of artists from different genres into his studio to create a combination of sounds that works on the music charts today. D Howell brings the love, nurture & music of his early beginnings to his seat at the industry table. “Man Dem” takes you on that journey…
Listen to Man Dem”
Follow D Howell:
Sasha Stoltz Publicity:
Sasha Stoltz | Sasha@sashastoltzpublicity.com | 416.579.4804
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