A day after the federal government announced a review of its increasingly controversial Temporary Foreign Workers Program, more complaints surfaced – these involving a group of Mexicans hired to work at two Tim Hortons outlets in Dawson Creek, B.C.
The four employees alleged they were required by their boss to rent accommodation in houses he owned, where they were each charged $400 a month for two-to-a-room sleeping quarters.
They also accused their employer of taking their passports away and threatening to fire them when they objected to terms of their employment.
Human-rights and employment-standards complaints were filed on their behalf Friday by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
Centre lawyer Eugene Kung estimated that Tony Van Den Bosch was pocketing as much as $4,000 a month from each of two five-bedroom houses he rented out to Mexicans he hired for his pair of Tim Hortons franchises.
"When Tim Hortons advertises the double double, I don't believe this is what most Canadians had in mind," Mr. Kung said, in a statement.
Canada's foreign workers program is already under a cloud from complaints stemming from the hiring of Chinese nationals to work at a B.C. coal mine project.
There is also a class-action lawsuit and a case before the B.C. Labour Relations board going ahead, over allegations of improper conditions imposed on other foreign workers in the province.
In an interview, Mr. Van Den Bosch, who no longer owns the Tim Hortons restaurants in Dawson Creek, strongly denied any wrongdoing.
He agreed that he had charged his Mexican employees $400 a month in rent.
However, Mr. Van Den Bosch said that was reasonable in a booming, resource-based community like Dawson Creek, where accommodation is hard to come by and rents are high.
"The houses were furnished, with cable TV and wireless Internet. The $400 was for everything, period," Mr. Van Den Bosch said.
He added that Mexicans employed by Tim Hortons have continued to live at his houses, even after he gave up the coffee shops. "They know they can't find a cheaper place."
He rejected charges that he forced Mexican workers to stay there. "I told all of them that if they wanted to live somewhere else, go right ahead. Not one of them did."
In a statement released late Friday from its Ontario headquarters, Tim Hortons said it is aware of the allegations against Mr. Van Den Bosch, but noted he has not been with the chain since July.
The statement, released by public-affairs manager Alexandra Cygal, said the company works with restaurant owners to ensure they comply with the standards and practice of the Temporary Foreign Workers Progam.
It is up to franchise owners to hire staff, and when they have trouble finding local workers, they may turn to the TFWP, Ms. Cygal said.
The manager of one of the Tim Hortons in Dawson Creek, who gave her name as Toni, said "quite a few" Mexicans are still working there.