VANCOUVER – Two unions arguing Canadians should have been hired for a northern British Columbia mining project instead of workers from China will get their wish to review the resumes of hundreds of job applicants who were turned down.
The mining company at the centre of the controversy has reluctantly agreed to turn over the documents, one day after a federal judge ordered Ottawa to try and retrieve them.
HD Mining had steadfastly refused to provide about 300 Canadian resumes since last month, but announced Thursday it will reverse course in the case involving the proposed Murray River coal project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
“The issue for us has never really been the resumes themselves,” company lawyer Alex Stojicevic said in an interview. “By putting these forward, we’re hoping to put the issue to bed.”
The dispute arose during legal proceedings spearheaded by two unions challenging HD Mining’s decision to hire 201 temporary foreign workers.
The unions were seeking disclosure of the plethora of documents associated with the application to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which granted the firm permits to bring the workers from China.
The unions intend to use the documents at a judicial review set for April.
While about 600 pages of material were initially released by HD Mining, the company had refused three times to give up other documents.
It argued the move would be an invasion of privacy and that the federal department had no legal authority to force it to give up the material.
In a letter to the federal government’s lawyer on the case, Stojicevic said the aim is to assemble the resumes by Monday.
But he argued there are still no grounds for handing them over because department officials never reviewed them when the permits were granted and agreed with the firm that specialized miners could not be found in Canada.
The unions, however, maintain the rejected resumes are crucial to the case because they will shed light on the qualifications of the Canadians who were not hired.
“It’s integral because if there were qualified Canadians who weren’t selected to perform the work, then it means … the government’s granting of the 201 work visas for the Chinese workers would really come into question,” Brian Cochrane, a spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, said in an interview.
He called the development a victory.
“This has been a long, expensive and painful process that frankly should have been transparent right from the very beginning.”
Monday is also the deadline for the unions to make an application for leave for consideration of the judicial review. The Crown and company will have 30 days to respond.
The process around granting the permits has become a subject of great scrutiny in the case.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley initially issued a statement saying the Conservative government wasn’t satisfied HD Mining followed all the rules when it sought the permits. She also announced an overall review of the temporary foreign workers program.
The firm has strongly objected to her remarks, subsequently threatening legal action.
The proposed underground mine site is located about 140 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, Alta. Several dozen workers from China have already arrived to begin exploration work.