November 26, 2015 - 8:00 PM
VERNON - Four temporary foreign workers who went missing in the Okanagan this past summer are back home in Mexico, the country’s consulate confirmed today, Nov. 26.
Vernon RCMP reported the men missing in July 2015, nearly a month after they were last seen taking a cab into Vernon to cash some cheques. They arrived in Canada ten days prior, and were assigned work at an orchard in Vernon.
Police announced Wednesday, Nov. 25 the men were located and Const. Jocelyn Noseworthy said in a statement their five month investigation into their whereabouts has concluded. No further information regarding the circumstances of their disappearance or where they were found was provided, and the RCMP have not returned requests for more details.
RCMP previously said they believed the group attempted to cross the border into the United States, and while that may be true, it’s not where the men were found.
The Mexican Consulate confirmed the four men are "currently safe and healthy with their families in Mexico." It is unknown whether they ever attempted to enter the United States.
Fred Steele, the president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, says the case was extremely unusual.
“That’s the only case there’s ever been since we’ve been doing the program,” Steele says.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program program has been running for over a decade, he says.
“I don’t think it will have any impact on the program at all,” he says. “It’s a one time case — you’ve got 4,000 workers in B.C. and then you have one case in ten years. It’s a small problem on a big ship.”
He adds that under the rules of the program, workers are allowed to leave their assigned job site and remain in the country until the end of their term, however they can’t take up unapproved work for a different employer.
“If they were working somewhere else in Canada, they’re in trouble, but if they were just travelling about, they have a visa to do that,” Steele says.
Amy Cohen, an advocate with an Okanagan-based group called Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture, has previously said there are many reasons for migrant workers to leave jobs, such as inadequate housing conditions and hostile work environments. The organization criticized police statements in media reports as portraying the men as criminals, and insisted assumptions should not have been made about the situation.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015