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BC human rights tribunal to release African tree planter ruling

For 55 refugee and immigrant tree planters forced to sleep in a "container" at a work site near Golden, B.C., it's a legal decision nearly four years in the making.

This afternoon, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is set to release its decision in a case that unearthed allegations of "slave-like" conditions and racial discrimination against Surrey-based Khaira Enterprises, which operated the camp.

The camp was ordered to close by government officials in July 2010 after an investigation revealed some workers who hadn't been fed in two days, lacked clean water, and were forced to live in squalid conditions.

The workers were represented by the non-profit B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which launched the complaint on Dec. 6, 2010 alleging the company had violated the Human Rights Code by "discriminating on the basis of race, colour, ancestry and place of origin."

In Aug. 22, 2011, tribunal member Norman Trerise ruled the complaint could proceed despite missing a filing deadline, because "the allegations of discrimination are particularly egregious."

The tribunal complaint heard dozens of witnesses testify that the workers were forced to endure racist slurs, verbal abuse and harassment. Many also said they were not paid on a regular basis, and the province's Employment Standards Branch order the company to reimburse $260,000 of wages owed to the tree planters, most of them from Africa who have permanent residence status.

Khaira Enterprises was contracted by the B.C. Ministry of Forests for reforestation work.

David P. Ball is a staff reporter with The Tyee.

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