The Mexican Consulate in Vancouver has launched an investigation after 80 people who arrived on a flight from Mexico were denied entry at Vancouver International Airport, even though they may have had the legal paperwork to allow them to stay in Canada.

The 35 women and 45 men arrived in Vancouver on a JAL flight from Mexico City on Friday afternoon, and were held at various detention centres around the Lower Mainland over the weekend, according to Faith St.John, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). They were sent home on Monday.

Juan José Salgado, the deputy consul general for the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver, said he is investigating to find out who was responsible for bringing to Canada dozens of people who were expecting to work when they got here.

Salgado said the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa only found out that 80 Mexican citizens had been detained on arrival after the airline started making inquiries.

JAL, which was told by border officials that it was responsible for flying the 80 back to Mexico, contacted the Mexican travel agency where their tickets were booked. The travel agency then called the embassy in Ottawa, which in turn contacted Salgado.

Consular officials in Vancouver weren't able to talk to any of the Mexican detainees before Monday morning, when they only had time to interview three people before their flight back to Mexico City took off. 

Salgado told CBC News the workers claim they paid between $1,500 and $3,000 each to someone in Mexico in order to make the trip to Canada even though it's illegal for a third party to charge migrants in return for finding them work in Canada.

He added that a diplomatic "letter of concern" will be sent to Ottawa regarding the incident.

"Somebody told me that this person put an ad in a newspaper in Mexico, saying if you want to work in Canada, just contact me," Salgado said.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) called the case highly unusual, and would not comment on whether the Mexicans had temporary work visas.

Regulations changing

Internal government documents obtained by CBC News revealed that even if the Mexicans had the right permits, they most likely would have been turned away upon arrival.

An internal e-mail sent to CBSA employees last year instructs customs officials to ask temporary workers whether they paid a recruitment fee.

"Payment of a high recruitment fee (by a low-skilled worker) may indicate the applicant is not a credible temporary tenant … if the assessing officer is not satisfied … the application should not be approved," read the e-mail.

The document was obtained by Richard Kurland, a Canadian immigration lawyer, who then gave it to CBC News.

"It's catastrophic for the workers. The fear and apprehension of repeated detention and then unceremoniously marched back to the plane, back to their families with debts and hopes turned," said Kurland.

Kurland said he agrees with the policy, as it protects migrant workers from exploitation, but he said they should be spared from being turned back once they get to Canada. He wants to know why there isn’t a checkpoint in Mexico to prevent migrants who are likely to be turned back from getting on a plane.

"It wouldn't hurt to have on the website of Immigration Canada the warning to third party recruiters luring these foreign workers to Canada that it's not going to happen," Kurland said.

Kurland said he expects more deportations like this one will happen, as new legislation passed this month in Ottawa gives customs officials greater discretionary powers.

At least 3,000 Mexicans are expected to find temporary work this year in B.C., according to the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver. Most work in the agricultural and construction sectors, which are both facing worker shortages.