The federal government has sanctioned a fourth employer that was using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program pending an investigation into the company's requests for Labour Market Opinions, which are required to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker over a Canadian.
The owners of Eassons Transport in Berwick, N.S., saw its permits to hire workers through the program suspended on May 1, according to a notice quietly posted on the web site for Employment and Social Development Canada.
The notice said the trucking company had its permits suspended because "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the employer or group of employers provided false, misleading or inaccurate information in the context of the request for that opinion."
"Any allegation of abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will be vigorously investigated," said Jordan Sinclair, a spokesperson for the department of Employment and Social Development Canada, in an email to CBC News on Thursday.
"We encourage all Canadians who have concerns or information to call our tip line ... or to write to us," Sinclair said.
The government has previously revoked or suspended permits for companies in B.C., Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, company president Paul Easson said he was surprised by the suspension but will fully co-operate with the federal investigation.
"I assume there's probably been a complaint. So we're just going to co-operate with them to give them all the information that they need to try and get the suspension lifted," Easson said.
Truck drivers shortage
The company, which operates a fleet of 125 tractors and 150 trailers to deliver food shipments from Atlantic Canada to other cities across the country and the U.S., claims it has had a difficult time finding Canadian drivers.
"There's been a shortage of truck drivers in Canada for the last ten years and we haven't been fully staffed. This has been a good part of the solution for us," Easson said.
Easson told CBC News the company has already hired a dozen or so Jamaican drivers through the program, but needs more to cover the upcoming vacation season.
"We feel that we haven't done anything wrong and we feel that when the audit is finished that will be proven and everything will be fine. I just hope it doesn't take a long time to do it," Easson said.
The company's claim of a truck driver shortage appears to be backed by a report published by the Conference Board of Canada in February 2013.
The report concluded that as a result of aging driver demographics and a growing demand for trucking services, the shortage of truck drivers could reach 25,000 by 2020.
"Tens of thousands of truck drivers are approaching retirement age, but very few young people and immigrants are entering the industry," said the report which was funded by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of provincial trucking associations.
While Eassons Transport has three other offices — in Ontario, New Brunswick, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador — only the office in Nova Scotia was put on the government's so-called blacklist.
The company prides itself on delivering food "on time and free of physical damage," according to a promotional video posted on its web site.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney is expected to make more changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the next few weeks, following a series of stories by CBC News on alleged abuses of the program.
Kenney said he intends to give Service Canada further audit powers to ensure employers stick to the rules.