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Ontario to boost penalties for employers who withhold workers’ passports

March 20, 2023
The Canadian Press

By Allison Jones

Employers who withhold the passports or work permits of foreign nationals could soon face hundreds of thousands of dollars in new penalties under legislation being introduced in Ontario.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton is tabling an omnibus bill Monday that includes the protections for migrant workers, expanding the reasons military reservists can take job leave, extending mass layoff provisions to remote workers, and requiring more washrooms on construction sites — with some for women only.

McNaughton said the stronger fines build on work being done by an anti-labour trafficking division within the ministry that launched 18 months ago to crack down on exploitation.

“My message to those scumbags out there abusing migrant workers is this: you can run but you can’t hide,” McNaughton said Monday at a press conference. “We will find you, fine you and put you behind bars.”

Currently, labour inspectors can levy penalties of $250 for each passport or work permit that is withheld, but with the proposed changes, that would rise to $100,000. Subsequent instances could see that penalty rise to $200,000.

As well, if an individual employer is ultimately convicted by the courts of such an offence, they would also be subject to a fine of up to $500,000, up to 12 months in jail or both, while corporations could be fined up to $1 million.

The current fines are $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations.

McNaughton said the exploitation of migrant workers happens far too often, pointing to a recent bust by York Regional Police. Police said 64 Mexican nationals were lured to Canada with the promise of good jobs but were made to live and work in deplorable conditions.

Five members of an alleged criminal human trafficking organization are now facing multiple charges. Police are looking for two others.

The men and women who were trafficked worked at farms, factories and warehouses and were taken from their living quarters _ where the workers described dozens of people slept on mattresses on the floor amid bug infestations _ to their workplaces on private buses, police said.

McNaughton said if the legislation passes those perpetrators could face at least $6.4 million in fines.

Ontario is also proposing to boost the fine for corporations convicted of any offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act from $1.5 million to $2 million.

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