A Winnipeg man has been spared a criminal record for employing illegal workers at his two city sushi restaurants.
Jung Won Choi, 57, was given an 18-month conditional discharge Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. His sentence includes a unique provision that he make a $12,000 donation to a pair of city organizations which work closely with new arrivals to Canada.
Provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie rejected the Crown’s bid for a $20,000 fine, which would have left Choi with a blemished record.
Choi was arrested in July 2010 following an extensive Canada Border Services Agency investigation which began more than a year earlier. The probe revealed that six foreign workers from South Korea were employed at Kenko Niwa on Corydon Avenue, where Choi was paying them much less than others who had work permits.
Several of the illegals told investigators they felt they would be sent back to their homeland if they complained about their working conditions. Harvie said Tuesday it’s clear they were being manipulated and exploited by Choi, who immigrated to Canada from Korea in 2004.
The Crown called Choi’s conduct "predatory" and said a strong message of deterrence must be sent by the courts. Harvie said that can still be accomplished with a formal conviction.
Defence lawyer Ken Zaifman told court his client misunderstood his responsibilities based on bad advice from an immigration consulting firm. Choi had also run into difficulty finding enough legal workers. Choi sold Kenko Niwa following his arrest.
Several of the illegal workers have since gained permanent resident status in Canada, court was told. Choi also filed numerous letters of support which described him as a hard-working and dedicated member of the Korean community who simply used "bad judgment."