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Human trafficking charges laid over illegal migrant workers
LONDON, ONT. -- London police say a year-long investigation into the illegal recruitment and employment of migrant workers has led to three arrests, and they believe there are more victims.
Investigators have so far identified at least seven victims, all from Guatemala.
The investigation began in Sept. 2018, when, police say, they received information that three Londoners were operating a recruitment business called Bethesda Agricultural Enterprises Inc.
“The accused acted through this company as a ruse to get these individuals to come to Canada,” says Const. Peter Keane, a London police officer. “One acted as an immigration lawyer and one acted as the employer.”
The company had been operating from 2015 to 2017, purportedly to match migrant workers with local employers.
The workers would surrender their passports once they arrived in Canada, believing work permits had been obtained. They were then housed, often 12 to a home, at various residences in the city in what police say were ‘deplorable conditions.’
“One of the residences had no electricity or running water. The living conditions were sub-standard, and they were kept through threats,” Keane says.
Officials say the workers were told if they did not follow the rules, they would be deported or police would be called.
The case is similar to a large bust in February of this year in Barrie. In that case 43 Mexican workers were defrauded and turned into labour slaves, according to police.
“They had been brought to Canada under the pretense of being here for educational purposes or work visas and eventually permanent residency status,” said Rick Barnum, OPP Deputy Commissioner.
“They were transported to Canada, coached on to what to say as they entered the country, and then were made to live in squalid conditions in Barrie and Wasaga Beach."
Deacon Tony Hogervorst of the London Diocese is a migrant ministry specialist. He also operates a farm in Watford, Ont. and has employed migrant workers for over three decades.
“Workers from other countries look for work in Canada because in their villages, away from the big cities, there isn’t an opportunity to earn a living,” says Hogervorst. “These people want the best for their family so sometimes they take desperate measures and the kind of risks we are talking about here.”
In employing migrant workers he can understand how they can be put in these difficult situations upon arrival. He also says he’s heard whispers of criminal activity when it comes to migrant agriculture workers.
“[Trafficked workers] get here, and they don’t have a status that protects them. They are not entitled to health care and the system can’t legally acknowledge they are here to work, so they are in a precarious position.”
Jose Alfredo Callejas, 62, and 35-year-old Karin Yadira Callejas, both of London, have been jointly charged with seven counts of trafficking in persons by recruiting and seven counts of withholding or destroying documents in relation to trafficking in persons.
Nathan Stewart Brown, 33, of London, is charged with three counts of trafficking in persons by recruiting.
Investigators believe there may be more victims, and are asking anyone with information to contact them.
All three suspects were released from custody and are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 3, 2020.