Police say 43 people have been rescued from a labour human trafficking operation in Simcoe County.

It was a joint effort between the OPP, Barrie Police, Canada Border Services Agency, and other community organizations.

Handout of the locations involved in the investigation

The investigation started last year and involved a cleaning company based in Barrie. Police received a tip that people from Mexico were being trafficked to work for this company.

At a press conference this morning Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said this is the first time a labour human trafficking operation of “this nature and size” has been found in the area, something she called “very disturbing.”

Greenwood said that labour human trafficking is not as widely discussed as other forms of human trafficking, but that does not make it any less significant or troubling. They were brought to Canada under the pretense of being here for either educational purposes or the promise of work visas and eventually permanent residency.

The victims initially paid the traffickers large sums of money to be brought here. When they arrived they were subjected to squalid living conditions in Barrie and Wasaga Beach.

The traffickers would take the victims to forced work locations at an unnamed hotel and vacation properties in Collingwood, Innisfil, Oro-Medonte and Cornwall and bring them back at the end of the day.

The traffickers controlled the victims’ wages and charged fees for the unacceptable living quarters, the transportation to and from the work sites, and “many other fees along the way.” After paying the fees, OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum said the workers would be left with very little money, sometimes less than $50 a month.

Last Tuesday roughly 250 police and border officers searched 12 places in Barrie and Wasaga Beach. All 43 victims, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 46, have been safely re-housed and provided with legal employment.

The investigation is ongoing and criminal charges are expected to be laid at a later date.