HALIFAX – A judge handed down a two-year prison sentence Friday to a Halifax businessman who exploited foreign workers, saying he wanted to send a wider message to employers across the country.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Glen McDougall said people who bring temporary foreign workers to Canada “should not dare” to follow the example of Hector Mantolino.
“The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is not a licence to attract hard working nationals from other countries so they can be brought to Canada to be taken advantage of,” he said. “This is not what Canada is about. This is not what Canadians stand for.”
Mantolino, originally from the Philippines, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to misrepresentation under provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The owner of several cleaning and maintenance companies, Mantolino used the temporary foreign worker program to bring 28 workers to Canada from the Philippines over a number of years.
According to a statement of agreed facts, Mantolino paid them at least $500,000 less than their total reported salaries.
Mantolino was originally charged in June 2013 with 56 counts of immigration fraud following a Canada Border Services Agency investigation, but those charges were rolled into a single indictment.
He was alleged to have counselled the workers to lie about their wages if they wanted to remain in Canada, with some saying they had stated they would receive a Canadian wage but were paid as little as $3.13 per hour after various deductions.
McDougall said the aggravating circumstances in the case were significant.
“I am satisfied that Mr. Mantolino was in a position of trust in relation to the 28 temporary foreign workers. He abused that position and although there is no evidence he actually profited from the exploitation of these workers, he stood to gain by making his company more competitive and hence more profitable in the workplace.”
McDougall also listed other factors he took into account in passing his sentence including the length of time the non-payment scheme was in place, the amount of effort by Mantolino to avoid detection, and the vulnerability of people who were “financially and emotionally abused by the offender.”
“What I find most galling is the fact that Mr. Mantolino is himself an immigrant to Canada,” the judge said. “Mr. Mantolino nonetheless concocted a scheme to attract disadvantaged workers who were desperate to make a better life for themselves and their families and to exploit them for his own personal gain.”
One of his victims, Jason Sta Juana Jr. expressed relief outside of court that Mantolino was going to prison.
“We are very happy because after almost six years this case is finally over,” he said. “I think this is a lesson for some of the employers who take advantage of foreign workers in Canada.”
Crown lawyer Timothy McLaughlin said the case and the sentence are significant because of the growing reliance on foreign workers in the Canadian economy.
McLaughlin said there are currently about 300,000 temporary foreign workers across Canada and more are likely to come.
“We need to protect them,” he said. “They do have rights and it is our obligation as a society to ensure that they are fully protected by the rule of law.”
Last month, Defence lawyer Ian Hutchison had argued for a conditional sentence, saying the workers were aware of and actively participated in the misrepresentation. He also submitted that Mantolino had pleaded guilty, had no criminal record and had high prospects for rehabilitation.
“We’re disappointed,” said defence lawyer Lee Cohen following the sentencing. “But we accept the judge’s decision as does Mr. Mantolino. I think everybody walks away from this kind of experience with lessons learned.”