Hastings Racecourse Reels from Immigration Raid

A raid at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver on August 19 ended with more than a dozen workers arrested for immigration violations.

Since then, the story has become even more complicated. Not only has the conduct of authorities been questioned, the situation has led to allegations of corruption and the larger issue of immigration. More investigations are underway.

The Racecourse Raid

It happened on a Monday morning.

More than a dozen contract workers at Hastings Racecourse were taken away in handcuffs at the direction of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). None of the workers were official staff of the facility but all worked in the stables.

Hastings Racecourse reels from immigration raid

Hastings Racecourse

According to witnesses, more than 20 Canadian border officers came in with a list of people – 20 names and photos on the list – and proceeded to identify them, handcuff them, and take them away.

NEWS 1130 reported that the arrest process was “confusing, dehumanizing, and shocking.” The Hastings employee also noted, “Where the frustration is coming from is how the people were treated.” She said they were not treated like people but “like they were dirt.”

She asserted that most, if not all, of the arrested workers had obtained licenses to work there. Most of the people were from Mexico and believed they had the proper paperwork enabling them to work in Canada.

The racetrack workers’ union, MoveUP, also expressed concern. Union President David Black said everyone was “shaken up and disturbed” by the raid, as the workers were like “extended family” to the union members.

Black went further to say that all Spanish-speaking workers were targeted. “Particularly disturbing are the reports that all racialized workers, even those who were not ultimately escorted away, were harassed by the officials conducting the raid. These are individuals who are no different than we are. They want to build a good life, contribute to our society and economy, and support their families. To see them put on public display in a fashion designed to humiliate is absolutely shameful and disgraceful.”

Reasons Behind Raid

The CBSA did not say much about the raid except to confirm that its investigation was related to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or the Customs Act.

According to a spokesperson, the raid was an “enforcement action” to address a “contravention” of one of the laws. An investigation is ongoing.

Further, the CBSA statement said the raid was prompted by Attorney General David Eby’s complaint in October 2018, which led to the investigation by the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. That ultimately led to the August 19 actions.

With that, NEWS 1130 confirmed that Eby was working with the CBSA to “secure the integrity of licensing and registration” at Hastings Racecourse.

Immigration or Gambling Concerns?

In the days that followed the raid, Eby spoke more extensively about the action and what spurred it.

Upon learning that there might be improprieties at Hastings Racecourse, he wrote to then-Liberal MLA Mike de Jong to ask that he look into the allegations. He then wrote back to Eby to say the matters had been reviewed by an independent third party, and nothing was out of the ordinary.

The Vancouver Sun reported that the referenced letter made no mention of immigration but of drug use in horse racing. However, the independent reviewer, who was then-Auditor General George Morfitt, was tasked with evaluating “general operations and policies” of the track but only pertaining to drugs.

Documents Reveal More Information

When Canadian media outlets obtained copies of the documents pertaining to the raid, more information came to light.

There had been an allegation of corruption pertaining to Mexican nationals working without proper documentation at Hastings. Reportedly, the horse trainers knew about the lack of paperwork but overlooked that in lieu of the need for workers. And at least one Gaming Policy and Enforcement branch employee may have falsified information on license applications in exchange for cash of $600-$1000.

Eby noted that there are criminal matters in play as well as immigration issues. He said that the allegations of corruption are not surprising, “given what’s been uncovered about money laundering.” However, there have been no charges of money laundering specifically at Hastings.

Official documents also revealed that there were actually 26 workers from Hastings Racecourse arrested on August 19, though more than half were released and have since returned to the track to work.

At least seven of the original arrested men remained in custody and awaited admissibility hearings. It is unclear when those hearings will be held and if anyone at Hastings will help the workers with legal help or representation.

 

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. As the online gaming sectors have changed and grown, particularly in the United States and Canada, she has followed it all and written about it for websites like World Poker Tour and PokerScout. In her free time, she runs a small business, reads, cooks, and enjoys music.

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