The owner of a silviculture company that made national headlines in the summer of 2010 after its workers were found living in deplorable conditions in a bush camp near Golden is now facing multiple criminal charges.
The Times Review can now confirm that Khalid Bajwa, owner of silviculture contractor Khaira Enterprises Ltd., is facing criminal charges including two counts of using a forged document and two counts of fraud over $5,000.
The workers, many of them recent migrants from Africa, were found living in substandard conditions without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many of them were not paid or underpaid for their work and have faced an uphill struggle since then to get paid.
In February, the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) ordered Khaira to pay about $237,000 in outstanding wages to the workers. Khaira unsuccessfully appealed that ruling, which was upheld in June of 2011.
In October, the ESB paid the workers approximately 43 per cent of the wages owed by the company using a bid deposit left by the contractor with the B.C. forest ministry.
Louisa Winn is a Lower Mainland-based Crown counsellor overseeing the case. She works in the Criminal Appeals and Special Prosecutions department of the Ministry of Attorney General’s office. The department focuses on cases involving things like fraud against the Workers’ Compensation Branch, ICBC and welfare fraud. She confirmed a lawyer from her department will be handling the prosecution for the Crown.
Winn confirmed that the charges were related to the Bajwa’s role as the owner of Khaira Enterpirses Ltd.
The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre is representing more than 25 former Khaira workers. BCPIAC lawyer Ros Salvador said she supported the ESB’s work on the issue so far. “We appreciate that ESB continues to take proactive steps to see that the workers are paid the wages they are owed,” Salvador said in a statement. “We will be following the criminal proceedings closely.”
Check back to www.revelstoketimesreview.com and see the Nov. 9 print edition for more on this developing story.