‘It’s just not appropriate’: Workers allegedly sleeping at San Group’s Port Alberni mill against fire order

'It's just not appropriate': Workers allegedly sleeping at San Group's Port Alberni mill against fire order
CHEK

The Port Alberni fire chief says there was a fire order at the San Group mill that is facing allegations over its use of migrant workers.

What’s going on behind the chain link fencing at Port Alberni’s San Group mill is the focus of multiple investigations. CHEK News has learned RCMP and the Port Alberni Fire Department searching the mill’s buildings at 11:30 p.m. on July 4 stems from a complaint that workers were allegedly sleeping in the mill “camp style.”

“It’s just not appropriate for folks to be staying overnight at an industrial property,” said Port Alberni Fire Chief Mike Owens.

San Group went on the defensive right after the search, telling CHEK News it was illegal.

“It was an unauthorized search, it was an illegal search,” said San Group senior compliance officer Bob Bortolin on July 5.

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But according to the Port Alberni fire chief, a standing fire order was issued to San Group in 2022, following a complaint of workers sleeping at this same mill and that gave authorities grounds for the July 4 search without notifying San Group to be present.

“They have an order in place that there’s not to be any sleeping quarters on that industrial property,” said Owens.

The search came just a day after CHEK News reported that social agencies had just moved 15 migrant workers from Vietnam out of a San Group-owned trailer at the company’s Hector Road mill, alleging they were living in inhumane conditions without running water, among backed-up sewage, and claiming to be victims of human trafficking. It’s a claim San Group denies.

“Look, we’re good corporate citizens. We’re good Canadians,” Joe Spears, manager of terminals for San Group told CHEK News on July 4.

As federal and provincial authorities look closer into the workers’ claims, WorkSafeBC tells CHEK News that the mill has been under extensive scrutiny by their investigators over the last two years, resulting in 27 corrective orders to be issued and penalties of over $78,000 imposed.

In addition, WorkSafeBC stated: “WorkSafeBC’s Strategic Enforcement Investigation Unit is investigating this employer related to a complaint about claim suppression.”

San Group did not return CHEK News’ multiple calls for comment on Tuesday, as the number of investigations grows.

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