A small Nova Scotia dairy operation has pleaded guilty to three violations under the Refugee Protection Act and been fined a total of $15,000 — $5,000 for each guilty plea.
A lawyer for Fox Hill Cheese entered the guilty pleas in provincial court in Halifax on Friday as part of a plea arrangement with the Crown.
The company has a dairy farm in Port Williams in the Annapolis Valley and a market and deli in Halifax. It sells cheese, milk, gelato and yogurt.
The company and owners Richard Rand and Ivonne Virginia Rios-Quintana, who are husband and wife, were accused of hiring workers from Mexico without proper documentation.
In exchange for the guilty pleas from the company, the federal Crown offered no evidence on the charges against Rand and Rios-Quintana, so the charges were withdrawn.
In an agreed statement of facts read into the record by Crown prosecutor Max Kruger, court was told that the Canada Border Services Agency received an anonymous tip in October 2018 about three employees working for Fox Hill without proper documentation.
CBSA agents executed a search warrant at the farm in April 2019 and seized evidence.
That evidence revealed that one woman had worked for the company for six months in 2018 without proper work documents. Instead, her landlord was listed as an employee and was paid by the company. The money he received was then applied toward the worker's rent.
In the case of a second employee, the CBSA found that his salary was concealed by payment to his wife. She was paid for cleaning services she did not actually provide.
A third employee received promissory notes for payment.
In accepting the joint sentencing and plea recommendations, Judge Aleta Cromwell noted that a mitigating factor for the company was that it actually paid the employees and did not appear to exploit them.
In addition to the fines, Fox Hill Cheese will be prohibited from participating in federal programs that provide immigrant workers for a period of two years.
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