More than a hundred foreign workers employed through a third-party agency are out of a job and at least some of them have been ordered to leave the country after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) found they were working in the country without the proper documentation.
CBSA officers were in Lake Louise July 12 as part of an ongoing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Criminal Code of Canada investigation of hospitality workers in Lake Louise, Jasper and Banff, Alta.
Some of the contract employees who say they worked for a temp agency called One Team have agreed to speak. CBC News has agreed to withhold their names because of the ongoing investigation they are involved in.
One couple in their 20s, say they travelled to Toronto from Mexico at the end of May, came as tourists. Online, they found a Toronto-based Facebook group that focused on connecting Mexicans in the city.
That’s where they saw the opportunity with One Team to work — and stay in Canada for the summer — on a simple social media post with a phone number.
They met another pair of freshly-recruited employees, also from Mexico, the company paid for flights to Alberta, and they arrived in Lake Louise — ultimately moving into employee housing together and working at the Lake Louise Inn.
Attempts by phone and email were made to get in touch with One Team, but no replies were received by the time of publication.
‘It’s a shame what’s happening to them’
“One of the dishwashers came in crying, saying they were getting sent home,” said Marcel Patenaude who is a cook at the Lake Louise Inn. “Like I said, super nice people, hard workers. It’s a shame what’s happening to them.”
Patenaude said later in the day more workers came to eat, upset and taken by surprise.
Other workers had similar stories, telling CBC News they travelled to Canada as visitors and then found a work opportunity, which they saw as a way to explore the country for longer.
But on July 12, the employees were surprised when they were taken for one-on-one interviews, first with police officers who had a translator with them, and then with CBSA.
“We were so scared at that point,” one of the workers said.
Through the translator, they learned that One Team was being investigated and that they did not have the proper documentation work in Canada.
“I thought that everything was legal and that I don’t disrespect the laws of Canada.”
The workers who spoke to CBC News guess there are at least 20 other Lake Louise Inn contract employees who have been ordered to leave the country.
They also said authorities have confiscated their passports and IDs for the time being.
A manager at the Lake Louise Inn was reached Thursday for comment, but in an emailed statement suggested RCMP would be best suited to provide any further information.
RCMP stated the investigation is in the hands of CBSA and could not offer comment further.
Workers at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which operates the Chateau Lake Louise, Banff Springs, and Jasper Park Lodge are also being investigated and the company says it is cooperating with the investigation.
According to Anastasia Martin-Stilwell, a spokesperson with Fairmont Canada’s Western Mountain Region, CBSA interviewed 32 contract employees who worked in housekeeping, stewarding, culinary, and residence divisions.
“It was determined that a total of 31 individuals unknowingly had improper employment documentation including work permits and appropriate visa,” wrote Martin-Stilwell in an emailed statement. “The contract workers were employed, and paid, by a third-party staffing provider, One Team. Hotels use third-party staffing agencies to assist with challenges related to labour shortages.”
Martin-Stilwell wrote Chateau Lake Louise did their due diligence of One Team’s operations. According to the statement, the contracted company told Fairmont it would be responsible for guaranteeing all documentation that the workers were hired properly with the ability to legally work in Canada.
Across three Fairmont Chateau hotels in Alberta, Chateau Lake Louise, Banff Springs, and Jasper Park Lodge, Martin-Stillwell said they found a total of 105 One Team contract workers.
Fairmont has not clarified if all of those workers were employed without the correct documentation.
“After consultation with CBSA, the RCMP, and internal legal counsel, we no longer have contracts with One Team, resulting in the immediate end to any contracted shifts given to the workers,” Martin-Stilwell said.
Finding a way home
At the Lake Louise Inn, workers are still staying in accommodations until they travel to Calgary. A number of the workers were concerned about finding the money to make the trip.
At the Fairmont, Martin-Stilwell wrote they are giving affected employees accommodations and food for 10 days, they will also offer free transportation to Calgary, or Edmonton.
“We recognize this is an incredibly challenging time for all those involved,” wrote Martin-Stilwell. “We have learned that we are not legally allowed to provide financial compensation to the One Team contract workers.”
The full scale of this investigation hasn’t been made public by CBSA.
“As this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” read a statement from Rebecca Purdy, a CBSA spokesperson.