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British Columbia Attorney General David Eby in Vancouver on May 24, 2019.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Attorney-General David Eby says an investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency that resulted in the arrest of seven foreign workers at a horse racetrack in Vancouver last week was sparked by a whistleblower who contacted his office.

Mr. Eby told a news conference Tuesday that a person reached out to his office last October with concerns that included allegations of people working without permits.

He asked the province’s gambling policy and enforcement branch to investigate, which found the complaint had merit. It also identified concerns relating to at least one gambling worker, he said.

Mr. Eby said that inspector has been suspended with pay while the investigation continues, adding that he has no reason to believe the probe will be restricted to a single person’s conduct.

The CBSA took charge of the investigation after potential immigration issues were identified, he said, adding that the agency is also investigating criminal allegations.

“Any time there’s an immigration-related offence that may have other aspects to it, which include criminal offence – fraud for example or breach of trust, which are some of the allegations we’re hearing here – then the Canada Border Services Agency will take over that investigation and they will take over the criminal investigation as well,” Mr. Eby said.

The CBSA says in a statement that seven people were arrested on Aug. 19 after border officials conducted on-site interviews and identified them as “inadmissible,” following allegations that they were working without authorization. It would be inappropriate for the CBSA to provide any further details as the investigation is unresolved, it said.

Mr. Eby said the allegation that a provincial employee was involved in exploiting “very vulnerable people” by accepting a benefit in order to commit fraud is concerning.

“For a lot of us, when we think about people coming from countries where there aren’t a lot of opportunities, where people are living in poverty and they’re coming to Canada and they’re looking for a way to provide support to their families at home, they’re extremely vulnerable,” Mr. Eby said.

“I think it’s incredibly disappointing if it proves to be true.”

Mr. Eby said his personal knowledge of the allegations relating to employment at the Hastings Racecourse dates back to his time in opposition, before the NDP took power in 2017.

He says he raised those concerns with the minister responsible, Mike de Jong, whom Mr. Eby said responded with a letter saying he had looked into the matter and had confidence in the racetrack operations.

B.C. Liberal spokesman Sean Roberts said Mr. de Jong is out of the country this week and unable to comment.

“As there is an ongoing investigation, we don’t know what facts are relevant to the case and we are not in a position to speculate. What’s important is that the process, which minister Eby is accountable for, is handled appropriately,” Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Eby said he understands investigators will review all licences issued at the racetrack to make sure they were properly issued with documentation.

“It’s my understanding, it’s on the public record, there are allegations involving more than just a single gaming worker,” he said, adding they include allegations against a potential employer and others involved in gambling at Hastings.

A news release from the Hastings Racecourse said last week that border services agents arrived at the park, owned by Great Canadian Gaming Corp., at about 6 a.m. on Aug. 19. A number of people employed and supervised by various horse owners and trainers were escorted off the site, and none of those who were removed is affiliated with or employed by Great Canadian, it said.

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