Workers for Khaira Enterprises outside a notorious tree planting camp near Golden in 2010.

Bush camp near Golden run by Surrey firm a ‘disgrace’

Province still ducking duty to protect tree planters: Sinclair

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is hearing allegations that a Surrey silviculture company ran a racially divided camp in the B.C. Interior and subjected its tree planters to slave-like conditions.

The 50 workers – refugees from Congo – want unpaid wages and damages from Khaira Enterprises for being forced to live in what are described as cramped, subhuman conditions near the Golden-Revelstoke area in the summer of 2010.

On the first day of the hearing the lawyer representing the planters told the tribunal the workplace was split on racial lines, with blacks treated differently and forced to work on harder terrain than non-blacks.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair gave evidence Wednesday on how the labour organization aided the workers after learning they were underfed, unpaid and subjected to racial slurs.

“This camp was a complete disgrace – the conditions were from another age,” Sinclair said in an interview.

He said other companies that run bush camps continue to treat workers poorly and he blames the provincial government for failing to do more to prevent abuse.

B.C.’s system of awarding silviculture work encourages low-ball bidding and corner cutting on camp conditions without adequate safeguards, Sinclair said.

“The conditions that led to the racism, the extreme conditions, still exists today. The steps necessary to stop this haven’t been taken by the government.”

The province terminated its contract with Khaira after its workers were discovered in squalor, some of them saying they hadn’t eaten in two days, and a series of investigations ensued.

Sinclair noted B.C.’s forest safety ombudsman probed the Khaira case, declared it intolerable and issued a dozen recommendations in 2011 that have largely been ignored, including a call for a more workable system of inspecting camps led by a single agency.

Khaira was ordered to repay more than $236,800 in unpaid wages but Sinclair said workers only got about half of that amount and only because the province withheld the money and redirected it to them.

The co-owners of the Surrey company, Khalid Bashwa and Hardilpreet Sidhu, have denied mistreating workers and questioned why they kept coming back for contract work if they were unhappy.

Sinclair dismissed that argument, adding what’s remarkable is that the workers essentially went on strike and refused to work even though they were denied food until they were discovered and rescued.

“These are refugees trying to make a buck to survive in Canada, their new country. They don’t speak the language that well. They don’t know their rights and they’re really vulnerable to being exploited. We have to be on guard, we owe it to these people to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The tribunal is expected to continue for several weeks.

Sleeping quarters in a shipping container at a Khaira Enterprises camp at Texada Island in the season prior to the shutdown of its tree planting camp near Golden in 2010.

Just Posted

Expect delays on Highway 1 west of Golden due to vehicle fire

Expect delays while driving Highway 1 between Golden and Revelstoke. Drive BC… Continue reading

Your weekly Mountain Minute

Golden’s weekly 60-secon news recap for February 14

Biologists discover another female calf in depleted South Purcell Mountain Caribou herd

Calf will be moved to Revelstoke maternity pens, then released

King and Spring return to Golden this weekend

The Snow King and Lady Spring return to the Valley this weekend,… Continue reading

Find out what the Golden community is up to

I hope that this column finds you someplace cozy and warm and… Continue reading

Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigns amid SNC-Lavalin furor

Butts categorically denies the accusation that he or anyone else in the PMO improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould

Lost a ring? This B.C. man will find it for you

Chris Turner founded The Ring Finders, an international directory of metal detector hobbyists

Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

Funding allocation expected to be released with 2019 budget

East Kootenay mine deaths prompt safety initiatives

Teck produces educational video, introduces new procedures after contractor drowns at Fording River

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

Moose Hide campaign takes message to Canadian schools

Campaign launches new K-12 education platform

‘Violent’ B.C. man wanted on Canada-wide warrant

Prince George man with ties to Vernon sought by police

Most Read