No recourse for man scammed by foreign workers
By RICHARD DUPLAIN
Published Wednesday April 16th, 2008
A Prince Edward Island mussel grower who took part in the federal government's foreign-worker program was burned to the tune of more than $50,000.
A House of Commons committee sitting in Fredericton on Tuesday told Stephen Stewart, owner of the Stewart Mussel Farms Inc. in Borden, P.E.I., he has no recourse to recover any of his money, but the committee will make recommendations to Parliament.
Stewart told a House of Commons standing committee on citizenship and immigration hearings that loopholes in immigration laws should be closed so employers can enforce contracts with foreign workers.
In May 2006, Stewart, the vice-president of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance and owner of one of North America's largest producers of cultured mussels, hired 11 workers from Sri Lanka through a private third party to work at his plant in Borden.
He told the committee it cost him more than $20,000 in return airfare for the workers, $20,000 for accommodations, the cost of a 12-seat van to provide transportation in and around Borden and other incidentals in accordance with federal rules designed to accommodate foreign workers.
Stewart said the eight-month work agreement included a Canadian visa valid for a year.
“Two weeks after they arrived here, they priced taxi fare to Ottawa, and two weeks after that they all disappeared,” Stewart told the committee.
“I have since learned that this is all too common among foreign workers in Canada … A little heads up would have been nice and we could have been prepared.”
Stewart said he complained to the Immigration Department and the RCMP.
“The RCMP searched my property and took the foreign workers' possessions they had left behind. Immigration officials said no laws were broken and there was nothing they could do,” he said.
Stewart said Canadian immigration laws permit the foreign workers to travel at will provided they don't work for anyone else.
“Now we are worse off than before, and we are down 11 workers and out more than $50,000,” he said. “People in the community criticized us for bringing in foreign workers and said we got what we deserved.
“I'm not against immigration or foreign workers but some things have to change or this will continue to happen and employers are going to get burned.”
Committee member Raymonde Folco said this is a case of employer abuse.
“It's a case of employees using the system for their own ends and it's not against the law but it's against the rules,” she said.
“The Immigration Department is not responsible in this issue.
“They stamp passports and visas and the work contract involves three other parties … I would have thought the RCMP would have been interested in a number of Sri Lankans coming to Canada and then disappearing. We have no answers for you.”
The committee promised to investigate the matter further.
“We have to check this out from an employer's perspective,” said committee chairman Norman Doyle. “This is a very interesting situation.”
He said once foreign workers arrive in Canada, no one has control over their movement.
The hearings continue in Halifax on April 16 and in St. John's, N.L., on April 17.