Toronto — UFCW Canada welcomes the ruling by Justice Michael MacArthur in the human trafficking trial in London, Ontario. It took more than five years of investigations and a trial to bring justice to a group of migrant agricultural workers who were trafficked and exploited in Southern Ontario. Jose and Karin Callejas were found guilty of seven counts of human trafficking; however, final sentencing will be delayed until July of 2024 as the Callejas have challenged the sentence.
These migrant agricultural workers were recruited between 2015-2016 under false pretences at farms in Southern Ontario. The workers had valid closed work permits under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program but were experiencing innumerable cases of abuse by their employers. They saw an opportunity to leave their employers and ended up working for Jose and Karin Callejas, who have now been found guilty on multiple counts of human trafficking. The workers were coerced, their passports and personal documentation were withheld, and they were forced to work.
The survivors contacted UFCW Canada for assistance in 2018. The union supported this group in collaboration with Legal Assistance of Windsor to navigate the complicated legal system and the many challenges workers endure after running from their traffickers.
UFCW Canada stands in solidarity with these survivors and all survivors of labour trafficking and calls on the Ontario Government to implement laws that strengthen the human and labour rights of thousands of migrant agricultural workers who make critical contributions to Canada’s food supply.
“The Ontario Agricultural Employees Protection Act as it currently exists does not offer adequate protection against labour abuses,” says Santiago Escobar, National Representative at UFCW Canada. “It bans local and migrant agricultural workers from being able to exercise their basic rights, such as forming a union and collective bargaining. Workers are left without a mechanism to protect themselves against the intolerable power imbalance that exists in the heart of Canada’s food production system.”
“If the Ford Government were serious about tackling the shameful treatment of migrant workers in Ontario, it would immediately provide agricultural workers equal access to the Ontario Labour Relations Act,” adds Escobar. “This is essential to correct the current unfair and anti-worker legislation that governs agricultural workers. Prevention is better than cure.”
As more labour trafficking investigations are exposed to the outrage of Ontarians, UFCW Canada calls on the Ford Government to offer more support to victims of human trafficking.
“The process of an investigation and trial is long and painful, and the survivors are left to fend for themselves with almost no provincial assistance,” says Escobar. Without the support of advocates, these cases would be abandoned, he adds. “Reliving the experience during the trial is difficult and emotionally taxing for the survivors.”