Guilty pleas in exploiting temporary foreign workers case

Red Deer couple were charged after investigation into treatment of temporary foreign hotel workers.

They came for the Canadian dream.

But those hopes were dashed for a group of temporary foreign workers submitted to horrible working conditions at a Red Deer hotel.

Four women and two men, all from the Philippines, told a Red Deer provincial courtroom on Monday how they were over-worked, under-paid and fearful while working for Ravinder (Ruby) and Varinder Sidhu, who ran the Gasoline Alley Econo Lodge Inn and Suites and the attached Holiday Liquor Store and Winks convenience store. A seventh victim was not present.

“When I came I was thinking of a brighter future,” said one woman, reading her victim impact statement in court. However things “turned upside down” and “the excitement I felt turned into disappointment.”

The woman had hoped to send money home but by the time she paid for food and her rent in the makeshift living space given to her there was almost nothing left.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sidhu should not operate a business anymore,” she said. “Now is the time for them to be accountable for their actions.”

Other workers spoke of their fear of speaking out against their poor living conditions, the bad pay and unfair demands they be available to work at any time.

“No matter how hard I worked it was never enough,” said one woman.

“The whole experience still haunts me at the moment,” said one of the men, who feels like he has “broken dreams.”

Word of the workers’ plights got to the provincial government in June 2014, which passed it on to the RCMP. After a 10-month investigation by the RCMP’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime unit, the Sidhus were charged with a number of human trafficking offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

In 2015, Alberta Employment Standards laid its own charges. It was determined that the Sidhus owed their workers $83,000 in earnings. They have paid it back along with $8,000 in fees.

Ravinder Sidhu, 48, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of communicating false or misleading information to induce or deter immigration to Canada under the federal act.

Her husband, Virander Sidhu, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of failing to keep proper employment records under the province’s employment standards legislation.

Crown prosecutor Ken Brown and defence lawyer Hersh Wolch told the judge they have a joint submission for a conditional sentence for Ravinder. A conditional sentence involves no prison time but often includes house arrest or curfews.

The Employment Standards offence is usually punished with a fine.

The Crown intends to withdraw numerous other federal and provincial charges.

Sentencing has been set for May 11.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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