Canadian police have made five arrests in connection with an international labor trafficking ring which exploited migrant workers from Mexico. Law enforcement officers found 64 migrants who were working long shifts for barely any pay and living in deplorable conditions.
The scandal has intensified calls for the Canadian government to revise its migration policy to ensure migrant workers can report abuse and exploitation without fear of arrest or deportation.
Cockroaches, measly pay, and assault
Antonio* and other migrant workers were picked up each morning at 5am and driven to a farm where they would spend the day packing vegetables. For their work, they would receive just $50 per week—the rest of their wages was supposedly deducted for transport and accommodation costs.
But the accommodation was not fit for human habitation. Six to eight workers shared each room and they were expected to sleep two to a mattress. Antonio told CBC News:
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.
Police found dozens of workers in similar conditions on February 8 in East Gwillimbury, Vaughan, Toronto and Mississauga. They had been lured to Canada with false promises. Far from the better life they had been offered, they were sleeping in bug-infested rooms, facing threats and even sexual assault in some cases.
How migration laws put people at risk
Migrant workers who lack permanent residence rights face higher risks of exploitation in Canada as traffickers often exploit their fear of arrest and deportation as a means of control. Victims are unlikely to report exploitative employers to police if they fear immigration consequences.
Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance of Canada, explains:
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.
He stressed that labor authorities should focus on ensuring that trafficking victims are not at risk of deportation should they come forward.
Although the government is supposedly working on a regularization program that would grant undocumented people status, there is no update on that program over a year later.
Join the Safe Migration campaign
The Freedom United community is calling on Canada and other governments around the world to throw out laws and policies that put migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum at a higher risk of modern slavery and other forms of exploitation. Immigration legislation must prioritize human rights and uphold international standards.
Join us today! Sign the petition and stand up for freedom.
*Not his real name.