Search warrants executed in Wasaga Beach and Barrie today are only scratching the surface of human trafficking in the area, according to a local police official.
On Tuesday, 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, multiple victims were safely relocated.
“This investigation will shine a light upon an aspect of human trafficking that the public is not normally aware of, and it shows the public that human trafficking can and does take different forms,” said Peter Leon, communications co-ordinator with Barrie police.
According to Leon, public safety was not in jeopardy and this phase of the investigation is now complete.
“When the public hears 'human trafficking,' people think of people being held captive basically in the sex trade,” he said. “In this case, it was individuals whose movements were controlled by work. They were provided employment opportunities, and there was someone who was controlling that activity.”
Leon says that while the average person goes to work and receives a paycheque, the people affected weren’t receiving remuneration that was rightfully theirs.
“We’re hoping to expand on this in the coming days with a news conference,” Leon said. “Right now, because there was some police activity that was recognized in the community, we wanted to just get the word out there.”
Leon said that as the victims were just rescued today, the police need time to get them settled and speak to them all individually to unravel the reality of what they went through before providing full information to the public. He declined to quantify exactly how many people were rescued.
“We were successfully able to relocate them today to places where they’ll be safe,” he said.
While no one has officially been charged yet, Leon says the investigative team is interviewing the victims.
“At the end of the day, we’re aware that there is someone who needs to be held accountable for what took place,” said Leon. “Right now, through the course of the ongoing investigation, we’re continuing to get the information that is required to identify and hold those people accountable for what they’ve done.”
“It’s been a challenging day for (the victims), realizing what they have endured over the last little while,” he said. “Now, they have the time and ability to plan a course of direction they can take in a safe location where they don’t need to worry.”
Leon points to the collaborative work that went on between the three organizations to rescue the victims.
“It’s something I don’t think people have seen at the magnitude that was carried out today. Certainly we’ve had reports in the past about human trafficking involving the sex trade,” he said.
“This is probably, in my policing experience, one of the first I can remember in this area specifically that deals with labour human trafficking,” Leon added.
Police will have more detailed information to provide about the investigation at a media conference in the coming days. A specific date for the news conference has not yet been set.