'We don't know if and when they'll be back': CBSA raid worries horse racing community
Published Tuesday, August 20, 2019 12:39PM PDT Last Updated Tuesday, August 20, 2019 8:19PM PDT
Workers at Hastings Racecourse were busy Tuesday after a surprise raid by the Canada Border Services Agency the day before.
An estimated two dozen people were taken into custody Monday morning.
The CBSA has not yet commented on the reason for the surprise raid, which appears to have been conducted with help from with employees from the province's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch around 6 a.m.
Video obtained by CTV News Vancouver shows a plainclothes officer with a badge questioning one worker inside a barn about whether he hired certain employees.
"Yes or no question: did you hire somebody to work here?" one officer, pointing off screen, asks a stable worker who was recording the conversation. "The people that we have over there, mainly him. This guy here. You want specifics, I got it here for you."
The unidentifiable male officer ask the worker a series of questions. When he refuses to answer any questions without a lawyer present, the officer tells him he’s under arrest.
A female officer then corrects her colleague.
“No, you're not under arrest. Why do you need a lawyer right now? We're just asking you questions,” said the unidentified female officer.
'Something is fishy here': Lawyer
CTV News showed the video to an immigration lawyer.
"That is downright intimidation,” said Richard Kurland.
Kurland said he’s never seen anything like it.
"One officer says, 'Yeah, you're under arrest.' And the other says no. Something is fishy there,” Kurland told CTV News.
He said CBSA does have the power to make such arrests and searches.
"As long as CBSA has reasonable grounds to believe a violation of Canada's immigration law occurs, arrests are legal, searches are legal, detention when justified is appropriate," he said.
Canadian felt discriminated against
Hassan, who works as a groom, was at the barn when the raids happened and says officers repeatedly asked him about his citizenship. He said he feels like he was targeted due to the colour of his skin.
"Their first word was, 'Are you Mexican? Can I see some ID?'" Hassan told CTV.
Witnesses said the officers had a list and appeared to be targeting workers from Mexico.
"I saw one of my friends being taken away in handcuffs," groom Joanne McDonald, who also witnessed the arrests, said Tuesday. "He has worked here for, like, four years on and off for the same trainer. Pays his taxes. I don't understand why they hauled him away."
Some workers say the way the arrests were executed made them feel like they were in the U.S.
"To see some of these kids with handcuffs being led away, it was just not a pretty picture," horse trainer Steve Hansen said.
Hansen believes the detained workers did have the necessary paperwork to work in Canada. Anyone who works in the barn also needs to be licensed separately through GPEB to allow them access to the stables.
He is now left wondering if the raid was due to a paperwork issue, or something else.
"It hurts. We don't know if and when they'll be back, and there's nobody really talking," he said.
Hastings Racecourse confirmed "a number of individuals" were escorted off its property Monday, and said those affected were employed by private horse owners.
"These individuals were working in the backstretch under the employment and supervision of various horse owners and trainers that are stabled at Hastings Racecourse to race," said Darren MacDonald in a news release Monday.
MacDonald said those arrested were not Hastings Racecourse employees or affiliated with Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.
48 hours to determine next steps
The CBSA would only confirm an investigation is underway and would not provide any details on what may have prompted the raid.
When asked several questions by CTV News Tuesday, the agency responded with an email stating, "It would be inappropriate to provide any further details as the investigation is ongoing. Further, the CBSA is bound by the parameters of the Privacy Act. A specific individual's file with the CBSA is protected by these parameters."
The CBSA has 48 hours to decide on how to proceed after arresting an individual.
The Immigration and Refugee Board has not returned CTV's request for information on whether any of the detained employees will be appearing before the board in the coming days.
David Milburn with the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of British Columbia told CTV News by phone he has also been trying to get answers on the status of the workers and what prompted the arrests, but so far has not been able to.
He has not been able to confirm if any of the detained workers have been released from custody.
In the meantime, the remaining barn workers are now picking up the slack in caring for the horses as they await word from their colleagues.
"I'm worried sick about them," Hassan said. "This just happened so fast, we don't even know what is the cause of it."