05/24/2014 08:07 EDT | Updated 07/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Congolese man sees justice in tree planting company racism case

A Congolese immigrant says his faith in Canada has been restored after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found that a tree planting company discriminated against him and 54 other African workers.

In 2010, Sebinyanja Wamwanga signed up to work as a tree planter in B.C. He said he knew the work would be hard, but he had no idea he'd be verbally abused, underfed and not paid for much for his labour.

"Sometimes I was traumatized, like some stress. When I didn't find my salary. I said 'Oh my god. We know Canada is a good country. How I worked for this guy and he don't pay me? OK, I feel bad,'" he told CBC News.

The tree planting work camp near Golden, in southeast B.C., was shut down in 2010 by the provincial Ministry of Forests when the planters complained to ministry staff that they hadn't had anything to eat for two days.

The workers also complained to ministry staff about poor living conditions and not getting paid. One of the workers also testified that the camp was divided down racial lines, and that black employees were forced to plant on rougher terrain and were fed inferior food.

The 55 workers filed human rights complaints against employer Khaira Enterprises, and on Friday the tribunal ruled in their favour.

The ruling said that the case was clear, there were open racial taunts and payment of wages was drawn along racial, slave-like lines, and the employer's actions caused the workers "embarrassment, a degree of depression, frustration and loss of self-esteem."

Khaira Enterprises was ordered to pay the workers $700,000, but the workers may not see any money as the company has declared bankruptcy.

Wamwanga says nevertheless, the tribunals' decision sends an important message.

"I thank God for all who help us for this case. It will encourage people to say, 'Oh Canada is a country of law,'" he said.