Trial opens for B.C. couple accused of domestic slavery
A Vancouver couple lured a Filipino woman into Canada with the promise of permanent residency only to keep her as a slave in their home, a landmark human trafficking trial heard Wednesday.
Franco Orr and Nicole Huen are accused of persuading the alleged victim to board a plane from Hong Kong to B.C. in 2008, then holding her passport and forcing her to work up to 16 hours a day for a fraction of minimum wage.
Crown prosecutors told B.C. Supreme Court the couple’s nanny, Leticia Sarmiento, was convinced she’d earn fair wages in Canada, and that after a few years she’d become a resident and be able to bring her three children to live with her.
But when she arrived, the court heard Sarmiento was instead forced into domestic servitude, earning just $500 per month despite the excessive working hours, and denied even a single day off in nearly two years.
Her employers also allegedly held on to her documents and refused to let her leave the house without them.
Orr and Huen’s lawyer, Nicholas Preovolos, said his clients are upset about the charges and hoping to clear their names.
“My clients have their side of the story to tell and they will tell it,” Preovolos said. “They’re entrusting their fate in the hands of the judicial system and they’re hopeful it will do right by them.”
Sarmiento is also suing the couple in hopes of earning some of the money she alleges she’s owed for unpaid wages and unpaid overtime, holiday and vacation pay.
Claim documents obtained by CTV News allege the nanny was forced to live in a small room that also held a crib for the couple’s baby, and expected to be “on-call” all night to care for the infant.
They also allege she was yelled at, forced to work when she was sick, and in one incident shaken, shoved, and doused with a jug of water.
None of the claims in the suit have been proven in court.
There’s never been a successful human trafficking conviction in B.C., but advocates are hopeful that could soon change. Orr and Huen’s case is just one of three currently being pursued in the province.
West Vancouver resident Mumtaz Ladha is accused of bringing a 21-year-old African woman into Canada in 2008 under false pretenses and forcing her into domestic slavery.
Police allege the young woman had her passport hidden from her and forced to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
And accused pimp Reza Moazami is facing charges of trafficking Metro Vancouver minors, some as young as 14 years old, into prostitution.
Aili Lim of the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association said a landmark human trafficking conviction would send an important message to both perpetrators and victims.
“To perpetrators, that the government takes this very seriously and they will pursue such cases,” Lim said. “For victims, that yes, if they do come and report it, have the courage to come and report it, the government and police and law enforcement officers will take their cases very seriously.”
Orr and Heun’s trial is expected to last three weeks.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee