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Still no charges in human trafficking ring involving workers at central Ontario resorts

Collingwood-area resort extends offer of full-time, permanent employment and staff housing to 23 workers
2019-02-11 HT JO-007
A map provided by OPP and the Barrie Police showing the locations of the forced work locations and the victims residences. Contributed image

BARRIE — More than two months after police announced that 43 victims of a labour human-trafficking ring were rescued in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, there have still not been any charges laid.

However, a Barrie police official says that doesn’t mean there isn’t still action happening behind the scenes on the case.

“This is not your average investigation. Human trafficking is a very complex matter to deal with in law enforcement,” Peter Leon, communications co-ordinator with Barrie police, said in an interview with BarrieToday on Monday.

Leon said that, as the investigation is multi-jurisdictional, a team of detectives is still assigned to and is overseeing the case.

“They’re continuing to go through mountains of information,” he said.

On Feb. 5, members of the Barrie Police Service, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) executed a number of search warrants in Barrie and Wasaga Beach related to a labour human-trafficking investigation.

As a result, 43 victims of labour-related human trafficking were safely relocated.

The alleged traffickers controlled wages and charged the workers fees for accommodations and transportation, according to police.

The workers – mostly males ranging in age from 20 to 46 years – were brought to safety, re-housed and provided with legal employment at local resorts.

“The evidence is there to support us calling it human trafficking because of the forced labour component,” said Leon. “I know it seems like the investigation has been going on for quite some time, but when you get into these types of investigations, the reality is you have to go where the information takes you.

“We’re dealing with people’s lives here. People were promised an awful lot and received very little,” he added.

Leon said that cataloguing 43 different stories takes time.

“It’s not just a matter of sitting down and talking with the victims,” he said. “It’s about, making sure that, things that were promised to one, was that promised to all? Were there different circumstances that were presented to different people?”

Leon also said that the language barrier is also a factor in how long the investigation is taking.

“We’ve had to utilize Spanish-speaking officers that are able to assist with the translation,” he said.

At the end of the day, Leon said all the police services participating in the investigation owe it to the victims to make sure the investigation is carried out properly, and that laying charges before all the evidence is gathered could only compromise it.

“Time is on our side,” he said.

“It was a uniquely solved situation where the community recognized the wrongs of some and stepped up and provided in a huge way,” said Leon. “It was a big problem, but it was a Simcoe County solution that came about in the end.”

One of the local resorts that opened its doors in February for victims was Living Water Resorts in Collingwood.

The resort issued a news release on Feb. 11 stating the company employed contracted housekeeping services from the company under investigation for the past year at a rate of $21 per hour. The resort staff and ownership said they were unaware of abuses against those workers they hired on contract.

The resort cut ties with the third-party contractor immediately after learning of the alleged abuse, according to the release.

In an interview this week, owner Larry Law said that once he found out about the investigation, he immediately offered all the workers housing and employment on an interim basis until they could get on their feet.

However, he has decided to extend an offer of full-time, permanent employment and staff housing to the 23 workers who still remain at the resort.

“I’m a Christian business man. I’m always trying to do good deeds for people. When I heard about this, I was just crying. Luckily, God gave me good DNA, which means I’m a doer,” Law said with a laugh. “So I decided we had to do something.

"We were told by the police that the immediate needs were housing and jobs," Law added. "I guess, it’s just a matter of having a good heart.”

Law said that last week he hosted an Easter luncheon for all resort staff. He said he was moved by the show of gratitude from the workers.

“Some were in tears telling me how appreciative they were, and how they (intended) to be good workers to pay me back in a good way,” he said.

According to the release, in the wake of the allegations, resort staff worked with Ace Transportation and Victim Services to shuttle the workers to Living Water Resort whenever needed. Journey Community Church and the Spanish Club of Collingwood offered to assist with translation needs and emotional support. The Salvation Army Church provided clothing and personal hygiene essentials, and some resort employees helped with basic living needs and support for the victims.

The resort also accepted donations for the victims. Law said this week that some of the donations were used to purchase bicycles for the workers so they have their own transportation around town.

“A good deed will have a good result,” said Law. “We’re all a happy family now.”


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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