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Trade union asks court to scrutinize foreign work permits for B.C. energy plant

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, left, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander are seen in a reflection at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, June 20, 2014 on reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A British Columbia trade union is challenging work permits issued to eight Americans doing construction on a power project in the province's north, alleging the company used a visa loophole rather than hire Canadians.

The workers entered Canada under the intra-company transfer provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows certain employees to transfer from branches of U.S. to Canadian companies.

But they're also required to have specialized knowledge, which the International Union of Operating Engineers alleges the employees of O & S Contracting Inc. don't have, and the union says Canadians could have done the work.

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Canadian Border Services Agency documents show the workers include a former cattle rancher with a criminal record and a young man with a high school education employed as a mill wright, which the union says doesn't make them more qualified than Canadian workers.

Union president Wayne Mills says the federal government needs to scrutinize the program in the same way it has tightened the controversial Temporary Foreign Workers' Program, making it more transparent to ensure qualified Canadians aren't overlooked for jobs.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. The lawyer for O & S Contracting, Aleksandar Stojicevic (STOYCH'-ah-vik), says the union has no standing and the work permits were properly issued by the border.

The construction project is expected to be completed next month and lawyers for the union will be in a Vancouver Federal Court on Tuesday asking for a motion to speed up a judicial review.

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