British Columbia

Dozens rally in support of racecourse migrant workers expelled from Canada

Dozens of protesters lined up outside the main gate of Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition Monday afternoon, demanding protection and fair treatment for migrants workers arrested last month.

Open letter to David Eby condemns racecourse raid, treatment of migrant workers

Dozens showed up at a rally Monday, demanding protection for migrant workers after an unexpected raid in August resulted in seven foreign workers being ordered to return to Mexico. (CBC News/Mike Zimmer)

Dozens of protesters lined up outside the main gate of the Pacific National Exhibition Monday afternoon, demanding protection and fair treatment for migrants workers arrested at a Vancouver racetrack last month.

Seven foreign workers were arrested and ordered to return to Mexico during the Aug. 19 raid at the Hastings Racecourse, frustrating many community members who believe the government mishandled the situation.

"People are really heartbroken this happened. And people are scared," said Magin Payet who organized the rally outside the PNE. 

The rally took place the same day an open letter condemning the raid was addressed to B.C. Attorney General David Eby. As of Monday evening, more than 200 individuals and organizations had signed the letter.

Falsified documents 

The attorney general confirmed last week that an employee of B.C.'s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch falsified documents to allow the foreign nationals to work as groomers at the racecourse without the proper permits. 

The staff member is also alleged to have charged the workers a several hundred dollars for the documents.

Payet is frustrated the migrants are being punished for mistakes made by a government employee.

"I think the person who was falsifying the documents and cheating people and extorting them, getting them to pay up to $1,000 for a permit... That's the problem that needs to get addressed," said Payet.

Rally organizer Magin Payet says vulnerable migrant workers shouldn't be punished for the errors of a government employee. (CBC News/Mike Zimmer)

He adds the government should have worked with the foreign workers — many of whom believed they had all the necessary documents to work in Canada — to rectify the problem.

Rights for foreign workers

The letter is demanding that migrant workers be granted the right to permanent landing status upon arrival as well as full and equal access to social programs and employment standards.

It also asks that the banished foreign workers be allowed to re-enter Canada and be granted open work permits and temporary resident permits.

"We would like to see the provincial and federal governments coming together to protect these workers," said Byron Cruz, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Health, which, along with the No One is Illegal organization, initiated the letter. 

Cruz says his organization would like a third party brought in to take over the investigation into the incident. 

A racetrack worker pictured at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver on Aug. 23, a few days after several workers were arrested there. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Along with Eby, several other politicians are copied in the letter including Premier John Horgan, Vancouver-East MP Jenny Kwan, and the federal ministers for immigration, public safety, and border security.

"Under the rhetoric of 'uncovering exploitation,' ironically, the actions of the attorney general and CBSA have exacerbated vulnerability for these workers, several of whom now face a legal ban on re-entering Canada for years," the letter reads.

"[Eby] probably doesn't even know how much damage he has caused to the workers and their families," Cruz added. 

CBC News has contacted David Eby for comment. 

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