Human trafficking trial: Migrant worker describes firm's intimidation tactics | London Free Press

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The migrant worker paused for a moment before answering if he was ever fearful of the man who headed the agency that brought him to London from Guatemala.

A Spanish interpreter translated into English what the worker, 43, who can't be identified under a court order, said in his native language about what Jose Callejas, 65, of Bethesda Agricultural Enterprises, in London, told him while they were driving to the recruitment office after the migrant worker arrived in Canada.

“He told me he was a powerful person, that he had people back in Guatemala to whom he would give an order of any kind. Whatever he said was going to be done,” he said.

The worker said Jose Callejas, whom he knew to be a pastor, had told him he had been part of what he described as “an extra-judicial organization” that he feared.

That was just one of many jarring experiences the father of two said he would endure during the months he was in London as one of a stable of workers at Bethesda. This week, Jose Callejas, 65, his daughter Karin Callejas, 38, and Nathan Brown, 36, have gone on trial before a jury on rare criminal case involving the trafficking of migrant workers.

They have pleaded not guilty to 17 charges stemming from events between 2015 and 2017. Jose Callejas and Karin Callejas face 10 human trafficking counts and Brown is named as a co-accused on five of those charges. All three face charges of withholding travel documents and Brown faces an additional charge of assault.

The trial is slated to last four weeks.

What is at issue at the trial is the treatment of a group of men, largely from Guatemala, who were brought to London to work for companies that had contracts with Bethesda to provide labour.

In his opening statement earlier this week, assistant Crown attorney James Spangenberg said that instead of promised decent housing and wages, the men found themselves crammed into appalling living conditions, with broken kitchen appliances, leaky faucets and including one address that lacked heat, electricity and water. Meanwhile, they discovered their pay cheques had been docked by the company for living expenses such as utilities.

He said the men were intimidated, had their passports taken from them and were threatened with deportation.

One of the men, the unnamed migrant labourer, had a work permit and a visa when he worked on a farm – and had a positive experience – in Quebec between March and May 2016.  He returned to Guatemala and was waiting to be called for more work when he found out about a woman in another city who was recruiting people for farmers. He paid her $500 to set up the process.

He was flown to Canada in July 2016 not knowing for whom he was going to work and only found out exactly who it was once he touched down in Toronto.

“When I was back in Guatemala, I was told that the person I was coming to was an evangelical person,” the man testified.

“That gave me confidence. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite when I arrived here in Canada.”He said he was told by Karin Callejas he had to work for the organization for a year, which, at first, didn't worry him, “but upon seeing the situation, the way we were treated, I worried too much.”

One specific incident he described Wednesday concerned Brown, whom the man said owned the Chapman Court home where the workers were staying.

He said there was a day when the driver who would take some of the men to a job site failed to show up and they said they could not go to work because they were late. The transportation showed up an hour later and the worker said “they took some of the men out by force to go to work” and identified “Senor Nathan.”

The way he would confront us, he did it aggressively,” he said.

The situation became so dire, the man said, that a group of the men found an apartment and moved out without telling the agency. The intimidation continued. He described text messages from Karin Callejas's phone number sent to one of the men who had a phone wanting to know where they had gone and warning they would be found.

The migrant worker's chief concern was getting his passport returned, he testified. In the end, he said he forked over $200 to get it back.

His fear of the Callejases didn't end. “The fear from the beginning had been impregnated in my mind because of the lived experience,” he said. “I was psychologically damaged.”

Two years would pass before he would make a statement to the London police. The man said it took that long to find “somebody who could guide us to expose how we lived.”

After leaving the Bethesda migrant work situation, the man said he worked for some time without a work permit but now has a work permit and temporary residency.

The worker will return to the witness box on Thursday to continue cross-examination that started late Wednesday afternoon with questions from Karin Callejo's defence lawyer Aaron Prevost.

[email protected] twitter.com/JaneatLFPress

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original publication.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.



This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.