More than 100 workers have signed an open letter, entitled "Respect the Rights of Migrant Workers: Labour Day for All Workers", to Attorney General David Eby and copied to several other politicians, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and B.C. premier John Horgan.
It comes in the wake of a shocking raid by Canada Border Services Agency officers last month, which led to 26 Mexican workers being detained and seven facing admissibility hearings.
"These workers are being punished with exclusion orders for the alleged corruption of an employee of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch who may have provided fake documents in exchange for benefits and cash," the letter states. "Many of the workers have been coming to Canada for a few years and believed they had the necessary legal authorization."
The signatories argue that vulnerable workers should not be punished for the actions of others.
Therefore, the letter calls on the federal and provincial government to provide these migrants with open work permits and temporary resident permits to enable them to return to Canada and continue working.
"Provincial and federal policies towards migrant workers facilitates an underground industry of extortion and exploitation," the letter points out. "Under the rhetoric of ‘uncovering exploitation,’ ironically, the actions of the Attorney-General and CBSA have exacerbated vulnerability for these workers, several of whom now face a legal ban on re-entering Canada for years."
A rally is planned outside the main gate of the PNE from 1 to 3 p.m. on Labour Day (September 2).
In addition to the individuals' signatures, the letter was signed by several groups, including Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, No One Is Illegal Vancouver, Sanctuary Health, Fuerza Migrante, Migrante B.C., and Justice for Migrant Workers.
They all wrote that they are "alarmed Attorney-General David Eby turned over information to CBSA, resulting in this raid".
"These workers, like Adan Cruz Villegas and Giovanni, wake up early in the morning and groom and care for horses in the Hastings Race stables," the letter states. "The stables have a painful history of violence, including the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II."
The CBSA investigation stemmed from an allegation of corruption involving a provincial employee, who's been suspended with pay.
A whistleblower contacted Eby's office in October, prompting an internal investigation. That led to a referral to the CBSA, which conducted its raid several months later.
The letter to Eby closes with a demand for enhanced labour rights.
"We call on all levels of government to not divide workers from each other, to not leave any worker behind, to affirm decent work and universal quality services, and to ensure the protection of all workers," it states. "We demand the right to permanent landing status upon arrival for migrant workers, and full and equal access to social programs and employment standards. We know we can only fight the forces of austerity and transnational capitalism by lifting the wage floor and expanding collective bargaining rights for all workers."