Silviculture operator faces fraud, forgery charges

Revelstoke Court: Prosecution document alleges Khalid Bajwa forged Revelstoke man's signature, defrauded BCTS, Louisiana Pacific.

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.

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.

Bajwa appeared in Revelstoke Provincial Court on Nov. 2, where he asked for more time before proceeding with the matters. Justice Mark Takahashi scheduled Bajwa’s next appearance for Jan. 4, 2012, saying the court expected him to be ready to proceed with the matters at that date.

The Times Review caught up with Bajwa as he left the courthouse parking lot in a minivan. He explained he’d driven up from the Lower Mainland for the proceedings and was now heading home. Bajwa indicated he planned to contest the charges. He said he hadn’t had time to see the documents related to the Crown’s charges, so couldn’t comment much at this point. “I don’t know anything yet,” he said, adding he’d wait to see documents outlining the charges. “Then we can fight.”

Public court documents provide further information on the four charges, all stemming from July of 2010. The two forgery charges allege that Bajwa forged two fire suppression certificate documents, including signatures of a Revelstoke man. The two fraud over $5,000 charges allege he defrauded Tom Austin, representative of B.C. Timber Sales, and Scott King of Louisiana Pacific Corp. Both organizations are involved in issuing silviculture contracts to subcontractors like Khaira.

The case stems from the discovery of workers living in deplorable conditions at a silviculture camp near Golden. 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 Enterprises 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.”