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Woman sentenced to eight years’ prison by Ontario court for running human trafficking scheme that employed up to 60 Mexican workers

by HR Law Canada

An Ontario court has sentenced a woman to eight years in prison for running an extensive human trafficking operation.

Over nearly four years, the woman — GV — manipulated and controlled up to 60 Mexican foreign nationals at a time, using five different homes for accommodation. She lured victims to Canada with promises of work and better living conditions, only to trap them in a reality starkly different from what was promised.

She pleaded guilty to a series of charges related to human trafficking, including 10 counts under the Criminal Code, a global count of receiving material benefit from human trafficking and eight counts of withholding travel documents for human trafficking purposes.

The case, which involved 137 pages of detailed plea agreement documents, revealed a sophisticated and industrial-scale scheme of exploitation.

Below minimum wage pay, confiscating passports

Victims, some fleeing persecution in Mexico, found themselves in Canada without work authorization and with limited English skills, making them highly vulnerable. GV exploited this vulnerability, confiscating passports, paying below minimum wage, if at all, and charging excessive amounts for substandard living conditions.

She employed threats, including deportation, and verbal abuse to maintain control over her victims.

The Crown sought an 11-year sentence, while the defense argued for 6 to 7 years, considering the harsh conditions of GV’s pre-sentence confinement. Justice Chapman, balancing these factors, imposed an 8-year sentence, less time already served, along with several ancillary orders.

GV’s operation was eventually disrupted following a police raid on two of her properties in July 2022. Evidence found during the raid, including 26 Mexican passports in her possession and her admission to several allegations, corroborated the scale of her criminal activities.

Victim impact statements

Victim impact statements read in court highlighted the profound and lasting effects of the exploitation.

Victims spoke of ongoing fear, a sense of dehumanization, and the shattering of their dreams of a better life in Canada. The psychological toll included PTSD, depression, and even suicide attempts, illustrating the depth of the trauma caused by GV’s actions.

“In some cases, work permits were promised and dangled like a carrot in order to manipulate victims,” the court said.

“She coached the victims on what lies to tell the immigration authorities at the border and searched their phones and deleted incriminating communications she had sent them.  In some cases, the victims were not permitted to leave the house in groups.”

The court called the victim impact “very aggravating.”

“The exploitation of these victims caused mental health issues in many cases.  Some of the victims suffer from PTSD, some have contemplated and attempted suicide, others are in treatment. Some of the trauma is inter-generational, such as in the case of the son of L.H., who is now experiencing the effects of the harm and is abusing his sister,” it said.

Other victims had to beg for money, were locked out of the house as punishment and had to sleep outside under a bridge, the court said.

“Many of them describe feeling like mere objects, owned by (GV). The victim impact is very serious and constitutes a significant aggravating circumstance,” it said.

The sentencing considered GV’s own traumatic past, including her kidnapping and sexual violation by FARC guerrillas as a teenager in Columbia. However, her history of criminal behavior in Canada, starting from 2013, and the extensive harm caused to her victims were deemed significant aggravating factors.

For more information, see R. v. Gonzalez-Valbuena, 2023 ONCJ 537 (CanLII)

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