Fox Hill Market & Deli on Robie Street in Halifax is accused of being in violation of immigration laws.
The allegations are made by Eric Topping, an officer with the Criminal Investigations Section of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and are contained in court documents obtained by the Halifax Examiner.
The Fox Hill Market & Deli is one of several businesses operated under the Fox Hill moniker, including Fox Hill Farm, Fox Hill Dairy Farm, and Fox Hill Cheese House in Port Williams. All the Port Williams operations are owned by Richard Rand. In Halifax, Fox Hill Market & Deli is owned by both Richard Rand and his spouse, Ivonne Rios-Quintana, who also goes by Ivonne Rand. A related business that operates out of the deli, El Gallo Authentic Mexican Cuisine, is owned by Ivonne Rand.
Topping accuses Fox Hill Market & Deli of several immigration-related offences, including:
• employing two foreign nationals who are not authorized to work in Canada — Angel Ricardo de Campo Tome (from February 2018 to May 2018) and Maria Fernanda Medina Leon (from February 2018 to August 2018);
• employing another worker — Daniela Aguilera, a Mexican national — through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP), but then making improper deductions from her pay cheques;
• that both Richard Rand and Ivonne Rios-Quintana made threats against Daniela Aguilera and her spouse, Jesus Rodriquez, that constitute the crime of “extortion.”
Fox Hill’s involvement with the AIPP was highlighted by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in February 2018:
Chatted with Yvonne the owner @foxhillcheese on how our Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program has helped grow her business and fuels economic growth in all of Atlantic Canada. #OnwardAndUpward pic.twitter.com/y6bCuLcS74
— Ahmed Hussen (@HonAhmedHussen) February 22, 2018
Topping told the court that he began his investigation into Fox Hill after a fellow CBSA investigator, Jason Cannon, “received a tip from a person seeking to remain anonymous. The tipster told Cannon that the operators of Fox Hill Cheese House Limited are taking advantage of foreign workers, not paying them, and treating them poorly.” Cannon handed the file to Topping in August 2018.
Reviewing records from the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, Topping learned that Fox Hill had hired five workers through the AIPP, to work in various positions in both Port Williams and Halifax.
Topping also learned that Daniela Aguilera was hired by Ivonne and Richard Rand through AIPP to work as a chef at the Fox Hill Market & Deli on Robie Street. Aguilera’s contract started on August 31, 2017; she was to receive $40,000 annually for working 160-165 hours per month. However, she was fired on August 4, 2018.
Aguilera and her spouse, Jesus Rodriguez, were interviewed by a CBSA investigator at their Halifax apartment. They told the investigator that Aguilera learned of the Fox Hill position through an advertisement in Mexico. She was interviewed by Ivonne Rios-Quintana and hired; Rodriquez came with Aguilera to Canada under an “open work permit”: Rodriquez told the investigator that he had worked for Fox Hill from December 2017 through May 2018.
Aguilera had copies of pay stubs from throughout both her and Rodriguez’s employment at Fox Hill, and showed them to the investigator. The pay stubs showed deductions that were noted for airfare, rent, and a loan.
The “airfare” deductions totalled $393.75, but Aguilera had bank records that showed that her father had purchased tickets from Mexico to Canada for Aguilera, Rodriguez, and their child, at a cost of 22,793 Mexican pesos.
The rent deductions concerned two apartments. The first was an Agricola Street apartment the Rands had arranged for the family, which they occupied from September 2017 through December 2017. Because of a bedbug infestation, the family moved to a Gladstone Street apartment. Topping felt the pay cheque deductions for the Gladstone apartment were legitimate because Richard Rand paid the rent directly to Westwood Developments, the landlord.
The Agricola Street-related deductions, however, were more problematic. Aguilera said that Ivonne Rand had paid the security deposit on the apartment, but Aguilera and Rodriguez paid the rent themselves. According to Topping, he and another CBSA investigator interviewed the building manager, who agreed that Aguilera and Rodriguez had paid him rent in cash each month. Still, Fox Hill deducted a total of $525 from Aguilera’s pay cheques for rent on the apartment.
“I believe that deductions in pay from Daniela Aguilera concerning airfare and rent for the Agricola apartment were not legitimate or related to airfare or rent,” Topping told the court.
Additionally, some $822.60 had been deducted from Aguilera’s for a “loan.” Aguilera told Topping that Ivonne Rand had told her that the loan was debt owed towards $2,000 in fees for processing immigration paperwork — $1,000 each for Aguilera and Rodriguez.
Aguilera was also told not to log extra hours worked at the Market & Deli in order to repay the debt.
However, “under the AIPP guidelines, there are no fees required to be paid by the employer to become designated in the program, and therefore be able to hire foreign nationals,” wrote Topping in the court documents. “I also know that Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada collects a $230 ’employer compliance fee’ to be paid by the employer. All fees associatied with the recruitment of foreign nationals are to be paid by the employer. All other fees associated with immigrating to Canada are to be paid directly to IRCC by the foreign national.”
“I believe that deductions from Aguilera’s pay concerning a ‘loan’ appear inconsistent and and arbitrary,” Topping continued.
According to the court documents, Aguilera and Rodriguez complained about the deductions, but “Rios-Quintana explained that she had the power to send them back to Mexico. And that by virtue of cancelling or not renewing their work contract with Fox Hill Cheese House Limited, Rios-Quintana could stop their applications for permanent residency.”
Further, “according to Aguilera and Rodriguez,” wrote Topping, “during a meeting between the two and Richard Rand at the Fox Hill Market and Deli, Rodriguez questioned Richard Rand concerning deductions from their pay and stated that he would report Fox Hill Cheese House Limited to the Nova Scotia Labour Standards, Rand responded by saying that he had many friends in Canada who could harm Rodriguez.”
Based on his 15 years’ experience as a CBSA officer, wrote Topping, “I believe that many foreign nationals, working in Canada, can be in a position of vulnerability. This is based on a variety of factors including lack of language skills, lack of knowledge of Canadian rights and laws, and lack of comfort with talking to police or government officials. In this case, as highlighted above, I believe that Ivonne Rios-Quintana and Richard Rand kept Daniela Aguilera in a state whereby she was always in debt, where she was in a state of fear of being sent back to Mexico, and where she had a fear of losing the opportunity to immigrate to Canada. I believe that Aguilera relied on Rios-Quintana and Rand for her life in Canada, and they took advantage of this position, for financial gain.”
Topping called described Rios-Quintana’ and Rand’s actions as the crime of “extortion.”
During the course of his investigation, Topping discovered that two other employees of Fox Hill, Angel Ricardo de Campo Tome and Maria Fernanda Medina Leon, were Mexican nationals who did not have status to work in Canada. Topping confirmed their employment at Fox Hill through interviews with several other current and former employees.
Aguilera told investigators that Rios-Quintana instructed her to “treat them [de Campo Tome and Medina Leon] as customers if the restaurant was ever checked by immigration officials,” wrote Topping.
Topping made the allegations as part of applications to obtain search warrants on the Fox Hill properties in Port Williams and Halifax. Those warrants were conducted on April 17, and various paperwork, folder files, immigration records, time cards, and other documents were seized.
The allegations have not been tested in court.
Fox Hill has not responded to an emailed request for comment.