Taking questions from reporters for the first time since 25 backstretch workers were arrested at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse, Attorney General David Eby says his office was the first to receive a complaint about an employee from province’s gaming policy and enforcement branch (GPEB) allegedly facilitating racetrack licences without proper work authorization.
Eby says a whistleblower came forward in October and as the case involves allegations around immigration the Canadian Border Services Agency took over the investigation in January.
“One of the concerns that I had when I heard about the allegations around a worker working for the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch was why this hasn’t been detected earlier, what protections are in place?” Eby said.
“Any time there is an immigration related offence that may have other aspects to it, which include criminal offences, then the Canadian Border Services Agency will take over the investigation.”
The lawyer who represented some of the workers who were arrested at Hastings Racecourse says her clients are victims of trusting the B.C. official who issued their credentials.
WATCH (AIRED AUGUST 22): Growing concerns over provincial body linked to racecourse arrests
Juliana Cliplef, the immigration lawyer assigned to represent the seven workers, said last week that she was told the workers handed over hundreds of dollars in exchange for those licences, believing they would also grant them legal work status in Canada.
The workers have now left Canada and that part of this case stands out to Eby.
“I think for a lot of when we think of people coming from countries where there are not a lot of opportunities, people who are living in poverty and they are coming to Canada looking for a way to support families at home. They are extremely vulnerable,” Eby said.
“I think this is why I was so concerned when this came forward and why I remained so concerned about what is being alleged. That there may be a provincial employee exploiting very vulnerable people.”
WATCH (AIRED AUGUST 20): CBSA makes multiple arrests at Hastings Racecourse
None of the allegations against the official have been proven in court. The official has not been named. Eby confirmed on Tuesday that the worker has been suspended with pay.
The investigation is still being conducted by CBSA and once they are done GPEB will take over.
“My understanding is that the investigation will be looking at all of the licences issued at the Hasting Racecourse to make sure they were all properly issued and that there are backing documents for them in order to determine the extent of the problem,” Eby said.
“Obviously when you have allegations like this there are concerns about credentials that may have been issued to other people.”
David Millburn, president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of British Columbia, argued last week that the workers are not to blame.
“The only offence they committed was working without a work permit, which they thought they were alright doing given they got the licence from the GPEB official,” he said.
All seven workers who had hearings last Wednesday, most of whom are from Mexico, agreed to voluntarily leave the country and pay for their own flights back home.
They will have to wait at least a full year before attempting to re-enter Canada, at which time they will have to explain the CBSA enforcement against them.
The GPEB is responsible for issuing licences to racetrack workers, which is required under provincial law. It is also the provincial regulator for the entire gaming industry, including casinos and lotteries.
— With files from Sean Boynton, John Hua and Sarah MacDonald