An employee with British Columbia’s gambling industry investigator is accused of misrepresenting job titles and switching photographs to falsify work documentation for dozens of foreign workers at Hastings Racecourse, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The investigation into the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch employee’s conduct resulted in the arrests of about two dozen Mexican workers, some of whom say they paid $1,000 for what they believed to be legitimate work permits, at the racetrack this week.
The Globe has obtained a solemn declaration by an Inland Enforcement Officer with the Canada Border Services Agency that details the allegations against the GPEB inspector, who worked out of the branch’s office at Hastings Racecourse.
The inspector, who has not been named publicly, is accused of falsely listing the Mexican workers’ occupations as horse owners on application paperwork to obtain licences required to work in B.C.’s horse-racing industry. Such a designation exempts applicants from work-permit requirements.
The applications were then sent to the GPEB’s registration office in Victoria, where background checks are conducted, and the approved applications sent back to the inspector at Hastings Racecourse.
“Upon receipt of approval, the GPEB inspector prints them a registration card that lists the foreign worker’s job title as an owner,” the document states.
“On a subsequent day, the same GPEB inspector is going back into [the gaming online system] and changing the foreign worker’s job title from owner to the job title that actually reflects the work they are going to be doing at the racetrack, such as a ‘groom,’ which is a job that requires a work permit.”
As well, the inspector allegedly subbed photographs on about nine registrations, so that the person whose image appears on the card is not actually registered with GPEB.
Workers in the backstretch – the area opposite the homestretch, where horses are fed and groomed – are hired by trainers and are not employed by Hastings Racecourse.
The enforcement branch launched its investigation into the registration of foreign workers at the racecourse after B.C.’s attorney-general received complaints, which included allegations of illegal foreign workers, the document states. It has identified 30 foreign nationals who it believes to be involved in the fraud.
The Globe has learned that Monday’s CBSA raid occurred on the first day of the GPEB inspector’s previously planned vacation, and that the locks to the GPEB office were changed that morning.
The attorney-general’s office, responsible for GPEB, issued a short statement on Thursday saying it launched its investigation after the attorney-general received a complaint in October, 2018, and that the GPEB employee under investigation “does not currently have access to any GPEB offices or government systems."
The BC Federation of Labour said it was “shocked” to learn of Monday’s arrests and “appalled” to learn how the workers were treated.
“Exploitation of migrant workers with and without documentation is rampant in B.C.,” president Laird Cronk said in a statement.
In detention hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board on Wednesday, lawyers for some of the workers said their clients had paid anywhere from $600 to $1,000 for what they believed to be legitimate work permits. At least one worker appeared to know that he was working in Canada illegally, having gone through the proper processes in previous years.
Brandon Carrion Gomez paid $1,000 for what he thought was a legitimate permit to work as a groom and was paid $70 in cash a day. He arrived in Vancouver on June 9 as a first-time visitor to Canada and says he was told he could work legally at the track.
Mr. Carrion Gomez was issued an exclusion order on Wednesday and is planning to return home to Mexico in coming days.
“I feel sad,” he told The Globe in an interview in Spanish on Thursday. “I was really enjoying my stay in this country. I was enchanted with this city and the people.”
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.