Port Alberni mill administration believes third party involved with migrant workers before their arrival

Port Alberni mill administration believes third party involved with migrant workers before their arrival
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The San Group, the company at the centre of migrant worker mistreatment allegations, has now launched its own investigation into whether a bad actor is to blame for misleading a group of Vietnamese temporary foreign workers before their arrival in Port Alberni.

It comes as fire inspectors, with the help of police, paid the mill an unexpected visit on Thursday night. It was a move the company is suspicious about and calls illegal.

The company provided time-stamped stills from their video surveillance system of Port Alberni fire inspectors, aided by police, going through the San Group’s Port Alberni mill between 11:30 p.m. Thursday night when no one from the company was there, with police only leaving the property 5 a.m. Friday morning.

“It was an unauthorized search. It was an illegal search,” said Bob Bortolin, the San Group’s
Vice President of Business Development.

Port Alberni’s deputy fire chief says he wanted to ensure the mill was in compliance of a fire order issued in 2022, but wouldn’t elaborate on whether it was in compliance or what the order was.

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Fire inspectors accompanied by RCMP are pictured at the mill. (San Group)

The company says they went through offices with proprietary information and don’t know if any of it was taken.

“We don’t want that information going out. Doesn’t matter if it’s dollars, sales, whatever it may be,” said Bortolin.

It’s not clear if the search was connected to the allegations the company mistreated temporary foreign workers working at the company.

The allegations include lower wages than promised for more than a dozen Vietnamese men and squalid living conditions, including no running water and a backed up sewer.

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The company says the workers are partly to blame for the disrepair at the trailers they were living in.

On Friday, the company also said it wonders if someone posing as a recruiter played a role before the workers’ arrival in Canada.

“Two weeks ago I would’ve said I don’t think so. Now, I think that there’s a third party that’s involved that’s looking at making some money, and promises can be made and promises can be broken,” said Bortolin.

The migrant workers told 93.3 The Peak that they paid $30,000 to come to Canada to work at the San Mill in Port Alberni. They were also told they’d be paid $30 an hour and receive accommodations.

The Salvation Army has stepped in, housing the men in Victoria.

READ MORE: New details emerge in case of alleged human trafficking in Port Alberni

The region’s MLA says the B.C. government is taking the allegations seriously.

“I can say, though, that all of the relevant information that needs to be there is with the appropriate agencies and persons and authorities, and we expect to see strong action taken by the federal government in this case in particular. We’ll continue to do everything we can to support these individuals,” said Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim.

The legal director of the Migrant Workers Centre says far too often people pose as recruiters offering a way into Canada for money.

“To the people coming this is just seen as expected and normal because they’re not realizing it’s extremely illegal from the Canadian perspective, and that the people charging these fees are corrupt,” said Jonathon Braun, the legal director of the Migrant Workers Centre in Vancouver.

Braun says people need to call on the government to overhaul these programs.

“The program itself and how it’s built creates abuse, and I think people need to reflect on the fact that we as a society seem to be accepting of a situation where we’re putting people at risk so that we can have cheaper food and cheaper services,” said Braun.

Employment and Social Development Canada said it couldn’t respond before our deadline while the Conservative Party of Canada says it’s been asking critical questions surrounding how the temporary foreign worker program operates.

Correction: A former version of this story identified the spokesperson from The San Group as Joe Spears, a different manager within the company. We apologize for the error.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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