VANCOUVER—A government lawyer is attempting to cloud comments from Human Resources Minister Diane Finley who said she and her ministry were “not satisfied” Chinese mining company HD Mining followed the rules when it obtained permits to bring 201 Chinese miners to a project in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
HD Mining’s project is now the subject of a legal challenge in Federal Court, where two unions—the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union—are arguing the temporary foreign worker permits should be revoked.
During a hearing related to the case, a federal government lawyer insisted Finley’s statement shouldn’t be interpreted to suggest there was anything wrong with HD Mining’s applications for temporary work permits.
“Notwithstanding whatever concerns she (Finley) had initially expressed in a public, unsworn, out-of-court statement based on whatever media reports she had looked at, I was instructed to appear here today to argue that the minister felt there was no legally reviewable grounds at all in this case,” Department of Justice lawyer Lorne Lachance told Federal Court in Vancouver.
“We have been vigorously defending (the permits) on that basis ever since.”
The lawyer was referring to comments made last fall, when Finley issued a statement that said the federal government was reviewing the entire foreign worker program. She suggested the HD Mining case revealed problems that needed to be addressed.
“We are not satisfied with what we have learned about the process that led to permission for hundreds of foreign workers to gain jobs (at the HD Mining site),” the statement said.
“In particular, we are not satisfied that sufficient efforts were made to recruit or train Canadians interested in these jobs.”
The statement pointed specifically to allegations the company required workers applying for jobs at the mine to speak Mandarin. HD Mining has denied that.
Finley has not elaborated on her concerns, nor has she retracted that statement or indicated she has changed her mind.
A spokeswoman for the minister could not be reached Wednesday.
The project has fuelled controversy since news of the permits surfaced last year, with unions and other critics decrying the company’s decision to hire foreign workers instead of Canadians.
HD Mining has insisted it couldn’t find qualified Canadians to work at the proposed mine, which would use a specialized form of underground mining that’s currently not used in Canada. The company says it plans to eventually employ Canadians once they can be trained, but critics say that time will never come.
HD Mining is a partnership between China-based Huiyong Holding Group, which owns a 55 per cent stake, and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc.