Warrants executed in June targeted 2 P.E.I. farm businesses suspected of illegal acts
CBSA applied to search premises of Canadian Nectar Products, Island Gold Honey
Federal investigators told court officials earlier this year that they believed two farm businesses in eastern P.E.I. were involved in an illegal scheme to defraud foreign workers by charging "large sums of money" for jobs that did not exist.
Canadian Nectar Products and Island Gold Honey, both of which have Montague addresses, were named in a search warrant that was executed by Canada Border Service Agency investigators on June 21 of this year.
The search warrant alleges workers were lured to Prince Edward Island with the promise of employment and the opportunity to gain permanent residency in Canada.
Upon arrival in the province, workers were told there was little or no work available, but were issued fraudulent pay stubs, among other alleged infractions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
In some cases, workers allege they were forced to re-pay airfare to Canada, and were instructed to "hide the truth" about their employment arrangements if questioned by authorities.
Workers also allege they were forced to sign resignation letters as well as other documents they did not understand.
Roger O'Neill, owner of the company that produces Island Gold Honey, and Kamalpreet Khaira, identified as an owner of Canadian Nectar Products, are named as persons of interest in the ongoing investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Canadian Nectar Products has been operating apple orchards in eastern P.E.I. for about eight years.
Khaira is also named as an owner of CWC Immigration Solutions of Brampton, Ont. It is described as an immigration consulting firm, with offices in British Columbia and overseas.
A former Conservative MP from British Columbia, Gurmant Grewal, was also a part owner of Canadian Nectar Products at one point, and is mentioned as such in the search warrant application. However, he emailed CBC this week to say: "I am not a part-owner of and have not been involved with Canadian Nectar Products since 2017; therefore, I am unaware with their alleged business practices with this matter."
Former Liberal MP Sheila Copps was an early backer of the project who endorsed it back in 2014, making a trip to Prince Edward Island to say she hoped to help make the province "apple capital of the world." Her name is not included in the court documents.
The allegations contained in those documents, which representatives for the Canada Border Services Agency outlined to P.E.I. provincial court judge Jeff Lantz in a closed-door session while seeking the warrants, have not been proven in court.
On Wednesday of this week, the Canada Border Service Agency confirmed in an email that no charges have been laid in relation to the matter. "This remains an active investigation," the email continued. "The CBSA is bound by the Privacy Act and cannot comment or provide further details on specific individual cases or persons, unless charges have been formally laid."
CBC News made repeated attempts to reach O'Neill and Khaira.
O'Neill returned a phone call and said: "No comment." Khaira has not responded.
Initially sealed by court
The 41 pages backing up the request for search warrants were sealed by the court at the time the warrants were approved, but CBC News applied for them to be made available to the media because of the public interest involved. A judge agreed to order them released with some information redacted.
The document contains a CBSA investigator's allegations of wrongdoing as the agency sought court permission to search and potentially seize evidence from buildings, offices, computers, phones and vehicles used by the farming businesses.
Through the course of the investigation it was discovered that Khaira is charging foreign nationals large sums of money in exchange for jobs related to the agriculture industry on P.E.I. that do not exist.— Search warrant application document
"Through the course of the investigation it was discovered that Khaira is charging foreign nationals large sums of money in exchange for jobs related to the agriculture industry on P.E.I. that do not exist," according to allegations contained in the document.
"It appears that O'Neill is working closely with Kamalpreet Khaira to defraud foreign nationals and Canadian authorities … This includes submitting work permit applications for jobs that do not exist or generating false pay stubs in exchange for cash from foreign nationals."
O'Neill and Khaira "misrepresented or withheld material facts" in their dealings with immigration authorities, according to allegations in the document.
According to the document, the CBSA investigation began last November, after the federal government received a tip from the Cooper Institute, a Charlottetown-based organization that advocates for fair treatment of foreign workers.
That information was related to complaints from workers about living conditions and employment provided by Island Gold Honey.
"Immigration consultancies, certain ones that work with temporary foreign workers, can be quite exploitative," said Eliza MacLauchlan, program co-ordinator with the Cooper Institute. "These workers are coming to Canada; the only relationship that they have with someone in Canada often can be with their employers, and so they are very dependent on them."
'Living conditions were horrible'
CBSA investigators interviewed seven workers who had arrived from overseas last August after accepting job offers from Island Gold Honey.
"All [redacted] nationals complained living conditions were horrible," according to the document.
Upon arrival in Charlottetown, the workers were placed in quarantine at a local motel, but were not paid for their time in isolation as required under the temporary foreign workers program.
All the complainants told CBSA they never actually worked for Island Gold Honey, but were instead brought to the business premises of Canadian Nectar Products, on Peters Road in Alliston, P.E.I.
During subsequent interviews, one worker told investigators they'd been recruited to work for Island Gold Honey through an overseas consulting company. The person paid that company $50,000 US to help with the job application.
After arriving on P.E.I. in October 2021, the worker was taken to live on a farm while work was being arranged. Two months later, the worker was still not employed.
Another worker told CBSA that repeated phone calls to O'Neill were not returned, and no one from Island Gold got in touch after the person arrived in Canada. Instead, the newcomer was directed to Canadian Nectar Products.
The worker said Khaira, operator of Canadian Nectar Products, said he could offer only 20 hours a week, not full time as promised by Island Gold Honey. However, the worker was told pay stubs would be issued indicating full-time wages were being paid.
The worker also spoke of being forced to sign a resignation letter.
In April, CBSA investigators talked to a worker who said they were recruited by Kamalpreet Khaira for a job as a farm worker on P.E.I., with a company called Atlantic Canada Nurseries, in Belle River, P.E.I. The worker said they were told they would have to pay Khaira $50,000 in installment payments.
After getting to P.E.I., the worker was taken to Atlantic Canada Nurseries and "was shocked to see that there was no company, totally flat grounds, and only one house on the land … It was not a nursery," according to the document.
Kamalpreet Khaira told the worker he was owner of both the nursery and of Canadian Nectar Products, and the worker could be employed in CNP's apple orchards. Khaira told the worker he would have to hide the fact that he was picking apples and not working for the nursery, according to the allegations contained in the search warrant.
Complaints about payments
Some workers told investigators Canadian Nectar Products required them to pay back the cost of airfare for their flights to Canada, contrary to what they said they'd been promised — and what is required of companies taking part in the temporary foreign workers program. In other cases, the company allegedly did not reimburse travel costs to workers as promised.
One complainant told investigators of being told to pay $1,200 to Canadian Nectar Products every two weeks. In return, the person received a cheque for $980, whether or not any shifts had been worked during that time.
Another complainant notified Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, saying they were suffering psychological and financial abuse. IRCC granted the complainant an open work permit, allowing them to seek work with another employer.
A common fear among complainants, according to the document, was how their employment status might impact efforts to obtain permanent residency in Canada. They feared being sent home, and felt pressure to comply with the companies' demands in order to remain in Canada.
Conditions of work outlined
According to the search warrant, CBSA investigators were examining the business activities of Island Gold Honey from April 30, 2020, to June 21, 2022.
In October 2020, Island Gold Honey received approval for work permits for 27 farm labourers and three farm supervisors. The permits were valid for two years. The farm labourers were to work 40 hours a week at $12.85 per hour. The supervisors were to be paid $16.84 per hour.
CBSA investigators were interested in the business activities of Canadian Nectar Products over a five-year period, from Feb. 28, 2017, to June 21, 2022.
In 2017 Canadian Nectar Products received approval for work permits to hire one office secretary, 30 farm workers and 15 farm supervisors. Pay ranged from $11.25 an hour for a labourer to $19.50 an hour for the secretary.
In 2019 the company received approval for a work permit for a marketing manager to be paid $40 an hour for nine months' work. In June and July of 2020, the company received approval to hire 15 farm supervisors and one marketing manager.
In December 2021, CBSA investigators on P.E.I. conducted "drive-bys" at Island Gold Honey and Canadian Nectar Products. The investigators reported no evidence of work activities at the locations under surveillance, despite companies' claims that full-time staff were employed on the premises.
CBSA investigators also conducted surveillance:
- outside the offices of CWC Immigration Solutions in a strip mall in Brampton, Ont.
- at the office of Aton Gateway Business Solutions at 535 North River Rd. in Charlottetown.
- at an office located in the Down East Mall in Montague that was ostensibly occupied by Canadian Nectar Products, Atlantic Canada Nurseries and 102045 PEI Inc., also known as Fruits Canada.
Vehicles also searched
CWC Immigration Solutions has been the subject of "several complaints made to CBSA," according to the search warrant.
Searches of seven vehicles were authorized:
- a Ford F-150 pick-up truck with P.E.I. plates belonging to CWC Immigration Solutions.
- a Ford Explorer owned by Canadian Nectar Products.
- a 2006 Infiniti owned by Fruits Canada.
- a Dodge Ram with Alberta plates, owned by Roger O'Neill.
- a 2021 white Mercedes with Ontario plates owned by CWC Immigration Solutions.
- a Dodge Grand Caravan.
- a Toyota Rav 4, owned by individuals whose names are redacted in the document.
Investigators say they also received information from the federal government through Service Canada; Employment and Social Development Canada; and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. They also relied on information from FINTRAC, a federal agency created to combat money laundering and other financial crime.